Planning for the End

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.


  1. Kim Oser on February 29, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    So sorry to read of your mother’s passing. I hope your preparation and discussions relieve stress and enable you and your family to find comfort in warm memories.

    Thanks for sharing. So many don’t take time to have these discussions. They won’t realize their value until they are wishing they had thad them. xoxo

  2. Margie Atwater on February 29, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    I marvel that you were able to get it together to publish this so soon! I can picture you and Carla sitting on either side of your dad after hearing the prayer which you knew your mom hated. I hope that brought you a bit of comfort to be together with her and share a smile!

  3. Pamela Robbins on March 6, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    I’ve been after ALL my family to do this for a long time. My mother was very compliant. The others just think I’m morbid! But there’s nothing morbid about respecting a person’s wishes. And it’s so much easier on everyone if we know exactly what the person wanted.

    • Margie Atwater on March 6, 2012 at 4:49 pm

      Pamela, you are SO right! When my father-in-law was in a coma, my mother-in-law was about to take all measures possible to keep him alive. Luckily, hubby had discussed such things with his dad years earlier, so told his mom of his dad’s wishes. Come to think of it, I am going to talk to hubby’s sisters and suggest they have a talk with their mom. She isn’t getting any younger.

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