The Importance of Pre-Arrangements
Time to plan your final social event
So many people are uncomfortable with the words: Dead, Death, Dying and Died. They much prefer terms like passed away, eternal rest, gone to heaven.
Why are we so uncomfortable when broached with the idea of mortality - especially our own?
"In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes" - Benjamin Franklin
The finality of death doesn't scare me. The idea of dying does. There is a distinct difference. Once you are dead - you're dead. The process of dying or thinking about your death can be a very scary thing. Perhaps this is why so many people reject making their own funeral arrangements.
Think about your family. How well do they handle stress and grief? Will they be well-equipped to make smart decisions while dealing with the shock and distress of your death? Beyond pets, have they dealt with a death in the family and all that's involved?
If you're a control freak, planning your arrangements should be right up your alley! There is nothing dismal about planning your send off. It's really planning a social event where you are being celebrated.
Traditional: Embalming, casket, burial plot, buried in the ground
Natural: No embalming, no vault, wrapped in a shroud or biodegradable casket and returned to the earth to naturally decompose
How do you want to go?
When it comes to what to do with your dead body there are so many options:
Burial and Cremation are the most common.
If you decide to go with a burial you will have to locate some real estate. Yes, your burial plot.
Here are some things to consider:
If you decide to be shipped close to your birthplace or where your family is buried you may be moving far enough away where your loved ones cannot visit you.
You might have a spot reserved...in your ex's family plot or vault. I don't know about you but that is the LAST place I would want to be. If you leave the decision to your kids and you have been divorced from their father they might find it easier to plant you next to him so they can visit you both. Think about it.
Urn it: One urn or small family keepsake urns. They even have mini urn jewelry that hold some of your cremains.
Tossed into the sea
Eternal Reefs: Your cremains are mixed with cement and placed in the ocean to create a reef. Become a part of the oceanic ecosystem.
Got $? Get launched into space.
During cremation your human remains are exposed to extreme heat and brought back to it's basic elements. The end result are small bone fragments placed in a temporary container.
From there you decide on interment (buried in the ground), inurned (placed in a columbarium at your church or memorial gardens), someone takes you home, or you get scattered into the sea (or favorite spot)... There really are many options.
Bear in mind that to be scattered into the sea, lake or any public place, you may need to get a permit. Technically it's disposal of human remains or littering. I don't condone violating any laws but I know a lot of people who've taken a handful of their loved one and gone on a long hike - if you know what I'm saying.
Donate to Science
In the seven years that I have written obituaries I only remember typing three who donated their body to science. I do not know why this isn't a more popular option.
There are generally no restrictions on age or condition of the body. Donors are always needed to conduct research or teach students to become doctors.
Generally there are no funeral or cremation costs to the family. Once your body served it's purpose it is cremated and interred at a facility burial site or the family can request the cremains be returned to them. Do your research on facilities or universities who accept whole body donations and ask questions. Will there be a fee to remove and transport your body? Does the facility do that or will a funeral director need to be called?
The benefits are immeasurable with a gift of your body to science.
The rising cost of funerals
Lock in today's prices!
By all accounts, funerals are expensive - unless you have an extra $7000 to $10,000 or more collecting dust somewhere. The cost of funerals show no signs of getting cheaper but they are trending to get a lot more expensive!
The financial obligation of a funeral can be overwhelming for any family. Save yourself and your family money by locking in today's prices.
Finding a funeral director is quite like searching for the perfect wedding planner. You want someone who will cater to your wishes. In other words: You wouldn't go to one dealership to buy a car, so why would you go to one funeral home for your final arrangements?
It doesn't hurt to talk to friends who've lost loved ones and ask how they were treated at the local funeral home. Word of mouth is golden. You want to know you will be treated well and not be sold a bill of goods.
Take the time to meet the people who will be taking care of you and your family. You will get a good sense of their personality and vibe. Funeral directors have gone through extensive school and training to get where they are. Their title is state licensed and certified. They are people too and should never come off as cold however, these people deal with death and grief on a regular basis. They are very astute at reading people and will mirror or compliment the vibe you're giving off. If you are relaxed and have a good idea what you want they will tend to be more relaxed with you too.
Remember - this person will probably see you naked. Not in a creepy way but a very professional and respectful way, like your doctor.
Funeral homes have personalities too. Some are modern, others are classic; some are neutral while others may have a strong religious motif. Where you lie in state should kind of match you. Ask to see their viewing rooms. Are they comfortable and inviting? Clean? This is where your friends and family say their final good-byes.
Whether family or corporate owned, they are still businesses and they have to consider their bottom line too. Price them out. There are price variations between funeral homes - sometimes significant. You want to get the most for your money and the best service for you and your family.
Interment / Internment
These two words are always used in an obituary and not always correctly.
But what do they mean?
Interment: The act of burying a dead person.
Internment: The act of detaining a person like in war time (Internment camps)
It's your story.
Write your own obituary!
It's not difficult to do and you can include or exclude anyone you want. It's your story after all - and probably the only time your name will be in the newspaper. In a sense - you are the star. For an average Joe or Jane this is your five minutes of fame, dear.
I have drafted quite a few editions of my own obituary. I try to think about my life in bullet points. Include my kids, husband, my parents and siblings. Still nervous about writing your obit? Read the paper or ask your funeral director for help. Most funeral homes have a generic fill-in-the-blank form to guide you.
The funeral director is your advocate
With your arrangements you may include your obituary. There may be an extra fee for this service. The obituary is generally optional unless your state requires a printed death notice in the paper (generally for legal purposes).
As mentioned earlier, if you write the obituary then you are in control of what is printed. The funeral home becomes your advocate if your family tries to make changes to what you want.
I remember typing out a page-long (very expensive) obituary that was all about the deceased man's adult children, their achievements and accolades. It almost read like an advertisement for the children. At the very end of this pseudo-novel was a TINY blurb about how private this man was. I was actually offended and made a call to the funeral director. I had to ask, "What's up with this?"
He was angry and distressed about it as well. The funeral director was good friends with this man and he confirmed how private he was. He confided that his friend would absolutely hate having an obituary at all and he even tried to talk the family out of printing something so extravagant. Alas, his hands were tied. He had no prearrangements, no contract, and he had no authority to advocate for his friend. He had to acquiescence to the family's request because... the customer is always right.
Do you plan on making pre-need arrangements?
It's your funeral
Planning the funeral can be the most contemplative time of your pre-need process.
Remember what I said about your funeral director? He is your advocate and has a lot of contacts. He will help in any way he can.
Depending on your religion
Mass of Christian Burial: A Mass is celebrated where your body is present at the church
Memorial Mass: A Mass is celebrated in your memory where your body is not present
Graveside Services: Skip the church part and go right to the grave site.
In Jewish tradition burial generally occurs as soon as possible to "preserve the integrity of the body."
Their religion dictates a lot of the preparation and interment of the body. How much say you have in your arrangements should be discussed with your funeral director and Rabbi.
Music & Readings
Do you have favorite hymns or songs? Passages from biblical text or poetry? Start making a list of them and share it with your family.
Some of my personal favorites:
- Ave Maria - Franz Schubert
- On Eagle's Wings - Michael Joncas
- Be Not Afraid - Bob Dufford
- Celtic Song of Farewell - melody: Londonderry Air
Your Final Gift
Prepay is the way
Lock in your plans and current prices by paying for your funeral now. Some funeral homes offer payment plans but be wary and know the difference between revocable and irrevocable prepaid arrangements BEFORE you sign on the dotted line. Are their quoted prices guaranteed or non-guaranteed? Do you have to open a trust for your payment plan or can you assign your life insurance policy?
One final gift
Pre-planning and paying for your funeral with all the bells and whistles you have prepared is truly giving your family one final gift.
If you have ever lost a loved one you know the grief, anger, and confusion that can arise. Without knowing your wishes they are left adrift with a lot of choices and expense. Will they be in the right frame of mind to make important decisions on your behalf?
They will lose their objectivity or start in-fighting if they do not agree on how to proceed. Money can be a great divider when everyone is wondering who is responsible for footing the bill. Take that out of the equation.
Give your family the name of the funeral home you've selected and be at ease - you are taken care of.