Death is a very real part of life, along with taxes. Yet, funerals are the only life cycle event most folks don’t want to plan in advance.
Despite the fact that humans have a 100 percent mortality rate, we don’t expect to die. If you don’t expect to die, you’re unlikely to preplan a funeral. And that leads to problems like family discord, higher costs, rote rituals devoid of meaning, and unnecessary stress added to grief.
Wedding planning gets way more attention than funeral planning, even though both events can conceivably cost the same, given a modest wedding and a traditional funeral. Yet, if the bride and groom planned their wedding the way most folks plan a funeral, they’d be scrambling to pull everything together in three days—talk about stress!
We are mortal. Our bodies eventually stop working. Many religions teach that the soul, the spirit that resides within our bodies as long as we breathe, lives forever. So, why fear death, and by extension, why fear funeral planning?
To talk about funeral planning, we would have to admit that this joy ride called life has an end. We’d have to look at how we’ve lived our lives, examine how we’ve acted and review what we’ve done with our time on Earth. We’d be forced to look at how we’ve treated others, and think about what others would say about us at our funerals. We’d need to take stock of our achievements and contributions to humanity. Perhaps we are afraid we’ll find ourselves lacking.
There are other reasons. Medical advances have saved so many lives so many times, it seems like death is optional. We don’t like the thought of losing the company of those we love. We avoid thinking or talking about death, perhaps for fear that its contemplation will precipitate the event. And many folks just don’t know what to do anymore when it comes to death.
Robert Fulghum, who wrote All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, also wrote a lovely book called From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives. Fulghum wrote, “For most of us, once we die, we are no longer in the care of our families and friends — strangers and institutions take over… Death is not in our school curriculum.”
He added, “Instead of a normal part of life, death is treated as an unexpected emergency, something that happens when the medical community fails. We always die ‘of something’ — as though if it weren’t for that disease or accident, we could have lived on. ‘Old age’ or ‘worn out’ or ‘life completed’ are concepts not found on death certificates or in obituaries. Death in our time means crisis.”
In fact, according to one hospice nurse I know, no one has died of old age since the 1950s. That’s when death certificates were changed to require listing a specific medical cause of death, such as a heart attack, dementia, or pneumonia.
We use euphemisms for death: passed on; kicked the bucket; gave up the ghost; checked out; left the building; keeled over; took the Big Bus; caught the last train; bought the farm; paid the ultimate price; pushing up daisies; knocking on the Pearly Gates; taking a dirt nap; and gone to the Great (whatever) in the Sky.
You, me, all humanity, we will all need to be disposed of when we die. If you don’t talk about what you want done with your lifeless body, you will leave your family and friends in a world of hurt if the Big Bus unexpectedly runs you over tomorrow and transports you to the Pearly Gates. Do everybody a favor and make some plans. It’s best to put your two cents in now, while you still can.
Just as talking about sex won’t make you pregnant, talking about funerals won’t make you dead–and your family will benefit from the conversation. Start a conversation today.
Gail Rubin is an event planner who speaks about funerals and memorial services. She gets the conversation going. She’s also the author of The Family Plot Blog (TheFamilyPlot.wordpress.com) and the forthcoming book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die (www.AGoodGoodbye.com). Starting on October 30, the 11th annual Create a Great Funeral Day, Rubin will launch the “30 Funerals in 30 Days Challenge,” designed to bring light to a dark subject and help families get end-of-life conversations started.
Academy Guest Blogger
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
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San Diego, CA 92124