I worked at a funeral home as a Family Services Counselor for the first year we lived in Chicago. There were two aspects to the position: the first was following up with families after a funeral, making sure they were getting everything they needed, answering questions and addressing concerns. This was what I wanted the job to be, but in reality the purpose of the first aspect was to facilitate the second: developing a relationship that I could later use to sell the family members pre-need funerals. It was, as one of my friends put it, “soul sucking,” which was a big part of why I didn’t last long.
As much as I find the methods exploitative, though, I still firmly believe in the worth of pre-planning for one’s own funeral. I saw firsthand, over and over, how anguishing the process of planning for a loved one’s funeral is. How families struggle to figure out what the deceased would have wanted, for everything from burial vs. cremation to red roses vs. white carnations. Because the agony is deep, tempers can run high, and disagreements can tear relationships apart exactly when they are needed the most. And the expenses are ridiculous. Not all funeral directors are predatory, but enough of the ones I saw in action are that I highly recommend everyone be on their guard. Guilt is often rolled up in the messy knot of grief, and directors know that guilt can encourage someone to buy that oak casket when a much less expensive pine casket would suffice.
Funeral wishes are important, but they are not even close to the most important decisions everyone should make to save their loved ones future anguish. Before anyone considers cremation and caskets and carnations (and I encourage you to, whether you pay for it all in advance or not) they need to consider advance directives, often known as living wills, that express wishes for end-of-life care. There’s a website HERE that has state by state information on creating and filing advanced directives. Whether you make it formal or not, though the first thing everyone should do is tell someone. It may not be easy; talking about death can be a hard thing even in the best of situations. But it is very, very important.
I’m watching my husband deal with his father’s deteriorating condition. It’s very hard to watch him hurting like this; I can’t even imagine what it must be like for him. Both of my parents are still alive and relatively healthy, so this is the first time I’ve seen the process of losing a parent up close. The situation is particularly complicated. My husband’s father lives in Chicago. We live in Alabama, while my husband’s brother lives in California. My husband’s father has no other family members (none that he has any sort of relationship with, at least), and his own ability to make decisions is rapidly disintegrating. Never having been a person willing to face his own mortality, he has not told his sons what he wants concerning end-of-life care, and now they’re forced to deal with those questions without knowing how he would answer them. And when he dies, they will deal with more questions that they have no easy answers to.
Please, think about these questions. Talk to your family, your friends.