I wrote this in 2010, shortly after my mom passed away. Today, on the two year anniversary of her death, the message is just as important.
It’s been an emotional couple of weeks since my mom passed on June 27. My family flew to Philadelphia for the funeral and my father asked me to handle all of the arrangements.
While it was a daunting job to make the travel plans, the funeral arrangements and all the other decisions that accompany a death, my mother left me with such specific instructions that it was relatively painless. Which is why I encourage everyone to start talking about wishes and plans while you still can.
We are encouraged to talk about sex with our kids, to educate them, to take the mystery out of it, to prepare them so that when they are faced with a choice, they can make sound and educated decisions.
Years ago it was taboo to talk about sex. But we see how important it is.
So why is talking about death and funerals, which is just as important, still a taboo subject?
Because it’s uncomfortable. Because it makes us face our own mortality. Because talking about death pushes us sharply into those inevitable feelings of loss, heartbreak and despair.
But, we’re going to feel those things anyway, so why not be as prepared as possible.
Imagine yourself standing at the edge of the ocean, the waves are breaking at your toes and the water is cold. Painfully cold. If you charge right into the waves, the cold is going to be so terribly shocking to your system.
But if you slowly move into the water a few steps at a time, you get a little more used to it. First the water is up to your calves, then to your thighs, and you are gently adjusting to the temperature and all of the sensations. When the big wave breaks and splashes your chest, your shoulders, and then takes you under, it’s not quite as shocking as if you had just plunged in.
Talking about death can be like this too.
My mother and I talked many times about her wishes for her funeral. The first time, eight years ago, was very uncomfortable for me and I remember sitting there, just listening and crying. She said she was sorry to make me sad, but she needed to discuss these things. And I knew that, even though it hurt my heart deeply, it was an important thing to talk about.
We returned to the conversation several times in the last few years, clarifying the details, discussing different options, even laughing about what clothes she wanted to be buried in.
The taboo of the subject was gone and, in so many ways, our talks helped prepare me for her death.
And she wrote everything down so that I wouldn’t have to rely on my memory, so that her wishes were clearly stated, just in case anyone wanted to choose something different.
When it came time for me to actually make the calls, make the choices, make the arrangements, I knew which funeral home to call, what kind of casket to pick, who she wanted to officiate at the services. And I loved reading her handwritten instructions, knowing that I was lovingly and dutifully carrying out all of her wishes.
And that gave me so much comfort and strength.
Making the final arrangements for a loved one can be especially painful if, in the midst of our loss, we have to make guesses and emotional choices. Not knowing our loved one’s wishes opens us to opportunities for doubt, regret, even guilt.
But if you start talking about these things NOW while you still can, you are actually giving your loved ones a great gift.
You get to be real and honest. You get to comfort them while you are still here. And you are giving them the gift of knowing that they are doing everything you wanted.
So open up the dialogue. Begin the conversation. Empower your loved ones with what they will need when that time comes.