Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pre-Planning, Part II

There is something very special about funerals and memorial for people who helped plan those services. I have attended a number of those for friends, and it brought an added depth to the ceremonies to know the deceased had picked scripture readings and music and asked certain people to speak. It was like the person was with us spiritually that day.

The thought of pre-planning a funeral scares the bejeebers out of a lot of people. They think that if they actually put the plans on paper they are somehow alerting death and he will pounce. That is especially true with people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. But planning a funeral service will not hasten death. It merely gives a person some small measure of control in a situation where they have so little control.

We can’t control what illnesses we might get. Well, okay, we can do some things to stay healthy. But even so, cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and other terminal illnesses strike almost randomly at times. So the only control we have when we are looking at the stark reality of death is what happens afterward. We can decide if we want to be cremated or not. If so, where do we want our ashes to end up? Where do we want to be buried? What kind of service do we want?

Memorial services that celebrate a person’s life have become very popular and appeal to a lot of people who are making these decisions. “I want people to remember me as having a good time and enjoying life,” one patient said. “And I want a party afterward.”

Some patients have told me that being able to make these decisions and plan for the “afterward” has made their last few weeks or days much more bearable. And family and friends attending services planned by the deceased have shared that knowing that is what made the service more meaningful.

Until next time

Monday, June 16, 2008

Planning For Death - Part One

It is amazing the different ways that people respond to the dreaded words, “You have a terminal illness.” Some panic and get hysterical. (I might just do that.) Others withdraw into a dark depression. Other’s wage an intricate war with battle plans that rival any major military action.

Sometimes they continue that battle long past the time when winning is even a hope. Is that better than giving in to the inevitable? I don’t know. I try always not to judge someone’s coping mechanism, and sometimes pretending is the only way to cope.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for accepting the inevitable. It affords time to take care of the business of one’s life ending. I can’t tell you how many widows in my support groups were struggling with the anger they felt at their husbands who did not put things in order so the wife could carry on with financial and other matters. And that is still a significant issue with couples where one or the other handles banking, investments, and household business. It would be so much easier for the person left behind if he or she were thoroughly briefed before their spouse died.

Openly acknowledging the inevitability of death also affords time to take care of issues or problems in relationships. Nothing is harder on the patient or the family than to go through this kind of crisis with huge problems hanging over them. Old hurts can be forgiven. Words that should have been spoken can still be said. And healing can take place.

Not all families have those kinds of issues, so for them, the time left with a loved one can be used to start the grieving process and mark each moment in some special way. One family had visitors write messages in a book that were then read over and over to the dying person, then given to the next of kin after the funeral. For other families, the time of waiting was used just to treasure the person for one more day, one more minute.

And sometimes the going is easier for people who have had this kind of acceptance personally and from their family.

More about pre-planning next time.