A few days ago I tried to talk with a friend about preparing for her death. This 65-year-old lady is as smart and practical as any I know. After beginning the conversation, she abruptly interrupted me, saying “But I love life; I’m having a good time.” She turned and walked away. I’ve pondered this comment and other conversations I’ve had with people about preparing for death, and have concluded that most people won’t think about it. How can this be, when it is the one thing we cannot avoid?
I believe there are three [possibly more] systemic reasons for this:
- When I was growing up, children’s stories often addressed the subject of danger and possible death. “The Three Little Pigs” and “Little Red Riding Hood” to name two. Thornton Burgess’s “Mother West Wind” series, once popular children’s stories, was loaded with danger and threat of death. But stories told to children these days, and for the last 30 or 40 years, hardly ever confront the possibility of death. Most of today’s people are unprepared to consider death as part of living.
- Our parents and grandparents lived in a more rural, small-community world. I grew up in a small town, yet my parents raised chickens and rabbits that were butchered and eaten by us. I grew up helping to pluck feathers and skin rabbits. Few today, including myself, are subjected to the killing and butchering of the meat we eat. Death is exempted from our lives unless we work for some megalithic meat packing company.
- Our youth-driven cultural outlook has helped to warp our sense of reality. Science has been so successful at improving health and keeping us alive that we now view death as a failure of medical science. There are two sides to this coin. Improving health is wonderful, but keeping us alive toward an inevitable end when no quality of life is left, seems cruel to me. What happened to letting people simply go to their final rest?
Even the process of disposing of our dead has become impractical and out of touch with reality. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust” has been replaced with “ashes to methanol and dust to formaldehyde.” Concrete vaults and waterproof coffins are purchased to stave off decomposition of the remains.
These are expensive items that in reality do not work as advertised; environmentally- damaging items that are costly go into the ground never to be seen again. Wouldn’t it be better if we were to let the dead contribute their remains to the good earth that gave them their life?
Shouldn’t we older persons, who have grown up more aware of death and are ourselves closer to death, discuss death with our loved ones? Only then can they be prepared when the inevitable happens, and indeed the inevitable will happen to every one of us.
This post provided by John Brobst. John is treasurer and a board member of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Western Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization that helps its members plan affordable funerals for themselves and their families.
For more on this topic, check out these websites:
Ugly Truth #1
This may be the worst shopping imaginable, but you are still a consumer.
Final arrangements can be confusing, especially if your loved one didn’t make her or his wishes clear beforehand (Planning ahead makes sense, doesn’t it?) Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and take someone with you when taking care of business.
Ugly Truth #2
Somebody’s About to Say Something Stupid
Whether it’s an acquaintance, a friend, or even a family member, someone will say a very wrong thing. Considering the awkwardness most of us feel when approaching the grieving family, we shouldn’t be surprised when emotional panic comes out in a wild faux pas. The important thing for you to know is the best reaction is no reaction. They’ll be replaying the scene in their mind and kicking themselves for years to come, so why bother? Walk away.
Ugly Truth #3
Houses Are Burglarized During Funerals
I know, it’s shocking, but it’s true. These animals scan the newspaper for funeral announcements, then Google the family’s address(es) and get to work. The easy fix? Have someone stay behind during the service. Trust me when I tell you there is someone who desperately wants to help you but is freaked out by funerals. Having them housesit will make you both feel better.
Ugly Truth #4
The Obituary is Not a Report Card
If someone has strong opinions about writing the obituary, let them do it. Make sure the name of the deceased is spelled correctly, then step aside. When it comes to survivors, don’t worry about being listed first, last, or not at all. Nothing that is written can change your relationship with the person who has died. Don’t let this become a battle. It’s not worth fighting.
Ugly Truth #5
Someone Will Let You Down
There will be someone who loves you very much, but will not attend the service, send flowers, a card or even call. This doesn’t mean they don’t care about you or the person who died. It usually means they are either paralyzed with fear over saying the wrong thing, or some past experience has made them unable to handle death in general. It’s only natural to be hurt by this apparent abandonment, but a forgiving heart will serve you both. Take comfort in those who are able to support you, and know you’re not alone.
Alicia King writes from the unique perspective of one who has lost many of those close to her. Her mother’s death was suspicious enough to launch a homicide investigation and lengthy legal roller-coaster. This ultimately led to a sentence of more than 15 years for her mother’s boyfriend. During the next eight years she would lose her grandmother, step-father, step-mother, and father, as well as miscarrying in her second trimester while awaiting her mother’s boyfriend’s trial.
Ms. King currently lives in Tennessee with her husband Dan and their two children. She’s a world-class worrier, earning her the nickname, The Queen of Concern. She is also an award-winning songwriter, writing mostly for film and TV.