By Jenny Leigh Hodgins
All goes onward and outward. . .
and nothing collapses,
And to die is different
from what any one supposed,
My father passed away from cancer 5 years ago. Before he got cancer, he diligently put together his will and last wishes. He gave each of his children and my mother the book with his end-of-life plans in it. He frequently bugged each of us to create our own will and prepare our final wishes.
My father’s love for his family was exemplified by his preparation. He knew what he was doing for us.
We had experienced the trauma of losing my brother in a car accident in 2004. John was 11 days short of turning 29 years of age. Understandably, this impacted all of us deeply. Twenty-nine is not a time you expect death! Planning for my brother’s memorial and dealing with his estate was a challenge complicated by the shock and grief of loss.
In contrast, my father had prepared in advance to designate everything he wanted us to have, and a role for each of us to play in his memorial. He chose the exact music, poetry and quotes he wanted us to use.
I’m a pianist, so he had me perform his favorite music, Debussy’s Clair de Lune. He asked my flutist sister to perform. Other family members were assigned things to read aloud. As my father was a veteran, my nephew-in-law led the military flag ceremony.
My father’s care manifested clearly through his deliberate arrangements. He had thought through the details so we would not have to.
He chose the place (my parents’ church), the emcee and faith leader (their minister), honorary pallbearers (friends and extended family), and everything on the memorial agenda. He took the burden of having to think about these things off our shoulders.
You may have noticed that my family is multi-talented. My father assigned things he knew were in the wheelhouse of each person. But it doesn’t matter if you include performances in your memorial plan. What matters is having a plan for your memorial.
This isn’t a topic limited to caregivers. As my family knows, death is something that can happen to anyone at any time. You may not think it's necessary to discuss. But trust me, you need to hear this. Even if you don’t want a memorial ceremony at all.
I'm wearing my big girl pants now because I know it’s important to:
• Do the hard things.
• Face the difficult.
• Feel the fear and do what you need to do anyway.
• Initiate the difficult conversations because something needs to be said.
And talking about death is the worst, most unappealing topic.
Before you click away to escape this conversation, I encourage you to keep reading. Considering your memorial plan is important if you care about anyone else in your life.
Most people don't think about this until it's too late. I know from personal experience that if you don't think about this, it will be much harder on you or your loved ones than you want it to be.
If you ponder things before they’re needed, you may at least be less devastated by the added stress of memorial planning. It’s an unpleasant conversation. But if you aim well ahead, you or those who lose you won’t have that extra strain.
And it’s a real burden I wish upon no one.
I’ve been through scenarios after a loved one passed away, where no plan was in place. This left survivors with the double-edged sword of dealing with both the grieving process, and trying to guess at how to handle memorial plans in a way that best honored the deceased.
This is hard enough to think about on a good day. But complicated by grief, or, sometimes a common situation where surviving loved ones are not in harmony with each other, or unable to function altogether, and you have a recipe for suffering all around. I want you and your loved ones to avoid that.
Your Compassionate Preparation Is For Others
The loving thing to do is make a plan. Tell all your loved ones what it is. You may even ask for their input about what would be meaningful for them.
Once you’re gone, it’s not about you anymore. It’s about providing the most comforting transition for your surviving loved ones. When thinking about your final wishes, keep this in mind.
Everyone will be blown away by loss. I’ve been through the loss of loved ones many times. I’ve helped plan memorial services for more than a dozen people. This is why I know the impact of having versus not having a memorial plan.
[Helpful Hint: Your local Hospice provides FREE grief counseling.]
How To Plan Ahead For The Worst & Relieve Your Stress
I’ve seen how grief deeply affects others. I know it’s important to talk now about things you may need to consider. Best to prepare for a memorial before dealing with grief, as grieving can make it highly difficult to function.
Preparation Takes A Load Off Of You
Losing a loved one is made a little less painful for you and/or your surviving loved ones if you prepare in advance. Better to have a general plan to handle the worst, than have no plan when that worst moment hits you like a brick.
It’s gonna hit you like a brick anyway. But at least with a plan, your grief will not be further compounded.
You or your loved ones may also avoid paying more than necessary for services because currently you are not slammed with grief and can function to think about things without bias.
I want to ease your burden with this conversation. I don’t care whether you want a memorial service or not. Nor do I care about the cost, the presentation, what you want included, where or who will be involved.
Knowing what’s important to you regarding memorial plans for your loved ones, or in preparation for those who will survive you, is the critical point here.
Whether To Include Or Exclude Societal Traditions
“The average funeral costs between $7,000 and $9,000. This includes viewing and burial, basic service fees, transporting remains to a funeral home, a casket, embalming, and other preparation. The average cost of a funeral with cremation is $6,000 to $7,000. These costs do not include a cemetery, monument, marker, or other things like flowers.” —Lincoln Heritage Funeral Advantage
Think About Ways To Save Money & Keep Things Simple
Funeral arrangements have developed as a societal tradition. From ceremonies to burials, there are many things to consider. Knowing your options may lead you to decide to include or exclude some or all of these traditions. You, not a funeral company or your religious institution, are in charge of what happens.
Your life insurance policy (if you opt for one) may cover some or all funeral costs. If you pay a funeral business for your end-of-life services, they may or may not cover some of the things mentioned here (or future blogs in this series). They will definitely charge you money for all their services.
Some religious institutions hold funeral services, and the religious staff or ministry may have their specific ideas for how they’re handled.
You may have limited funds, making it difficult or impossible to afford paid funeral services. You may also prefer more freedom to control memorial plans than your religious institution may approve. Bear these points in mind as you consider your ultimate wishes.
I cannot emphasize enough that grief can make it challenging for you to be clear-headed about memorial services. Since a funeral home is a business, be aware that they probably won’t be guiding you toward the least expensive options.
If you don’t care about expense, or if appearances are more important to you, you'll be in a good position for the inevitable presentation of more expensive options; embalming, an elaborate casket, grave site plots, tombstones, the cost of the burial, ushers available at the memorial ceremony, etc.
If you opt for cremation, be prepared for a pricey selection of urns, and the cost of a presentation of the urn at the memorial service (in essence, the urn will sit on top of a larger box).
Taking The Environment Into Account
If formality is less important to you, or if finances are an issue, consider the fact that everything buried will disintegrate. There are far less expensive choices such as opting out of embalming, caskets, burial, tombstones, or even urns.
When choosing cremation, embalming may be omitted. You may decide instead of buying an urn, to transfer remaining ashes to a container of your own, or scatter them as part of a memorial ceremony.
Another point to recognize is the decrease of available space for burial plots. Concern about protecting our environment is another point in favor of memorial plan simplicity.
For this reason, my father chose cremation without an urn. My mother was given his remains in a large box. Our family met at the location where my father had requested his ashes be scattered. We took turns dissipating ashes to honor my father’s wishes.
My niece bought uniform glass jars for each of us to respectfully preserve some of the ashes. This lessened the expense for my family and allowed us to choose our own way for closure and as a tribute to my father.
No matter which services or presentation style you choose, whether having a plan for funding your memorial, additional funeral services, opting for the simplicity of cremation without an urn, or simply spelling out your final wishes in a will, your thoughtful preparation will take the burden off surviving loved ones.
If you don't know where to start with planning a memorial, this is the first of a series of blogs on this topic.
I’d love to hear from you. It means a lot to me that my content is helpful and empowers you. Please take a moment to join the conversation below to let me know if this blog is helpful or if you have questions or suggestions!
Stay tuned for my next blog: Things to include in a memorial agenda.
Also coming soon: My Memorial Pack including: easy-to-use templates for writing an obituary, memorial programs, downloadable memorial agenda checklist, music tracks and poetry (suitable for memorials/loss).
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(How to save money and prepare an obituary)
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Believing In The Positive
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In my Caregiver blogs, you'll find I understand the internal struggles and daily stress as a caregiver juggling entrepreneurial life.