Death is a topic that people don’t want to talk about, especially their own deaths. As Woody Allen said, “I am not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
My mother passed away three days ago. I was very glad that I had taken the time last year to have a conversation with her about how she envisioned her funeral. It greatly eased the decision-making at a very trying time. I didn’t have to keep stopping and asking myself, “What would Mommy want?” and then second-guessing myself.
Last June, my husband and I found ourselves responsible for handling the details for a friend who had just died. It was frustrating not to know what he wanted. We muddled through with the input of other friends who knew him better than we did.
After that experience, I vowed not to let this happen again. I went to visit my elderly parents and asked them for their specific wishes. What funeral home did they prefer? What kind of coffin? What clothing should they be buried in? Which friends and family should we call first to spread the word?
I typed up my notes and put them in the same file as my parents’ Health Care Proxies. I included in the notes the address and phone number of the funeral home as well as their cemetery. I pulled out that file when she went into the hospital last week, so that I could provide the hospital with a copy of her Health Care Proxy. Going through the file, I found those notes and reread them. So when she passed a few days later, I was well prepared.
Of course you can’t always anticipate everything. We had her funeral yesterday (in the Jewish religion, burial happens swiftly) and had a brief conversation beforehand with the Rabbi who was going to lead the service. He went over with us how the service was going to proceed, and everything sounded good.
Shortly after the service begin, he started to recite a prayer called “A Woman of Valor” that is often said at the funeral of a Jewish woman. The problem is, my mother hated that prayer! She had heard it at many funerals, and always expressed to us how it rubbed her the wrong way. We didn’t know that the rabbi was planning to say it. My sister and I, sitting on either side of my father, looked at each other and both mouthed, “Mommy hated that!” We both broke into a big smile, and it brought us a bit of levity on a very sad day.
I urge you to take the time now for you and your family members to document everyone’s wishes. In addition to the questions I mentioned above, you should think about burial vs. cremation, as well as organ donation.