The Conversation Project encourages families to talk about advanced care directives, that is, what kinds and levels of medical interventions someone would want for themselves. Their free, beautiful Starter Kits start off by asking us to think about our values and what’s important to us as the basis for proceeding to deal with possible situations. It’s the perfect beginning to thinking about the after-death care choices, as well, by combining the first 2 pages of the starter kit with the questions in your planning guide. As previous posts in this series have pointed out, aligning after-death care with our values and what’s important to us makes the whole thing meaningful and less paralyzing. When people value caring for the environment, for example, learning about natural burial can open up a conversation.
Talking About Death Won’t Kill You by Virginia Morris, can help, and help a lot. I wish I’d been able to read it when I was afraid that talking might take away my terminally-ill mother’s hope that she’d get better, for example.
Then there’s talking about death ahead of time. As Morris writes “We say we’ll think about death when we get there. But where is there? We are all mortal.” …She gives the analogy that the best time to learn about emergency rock-climbing procedures is before you start the expedition, not when you’re hanging on the edge of the precipice, engulfed in terror. Although this book is not geared to specific ways to proceed to talk with others, reading it helped friends of mine and me in that regard.
Share books, articles, movies, etc, with others. Doing it in displacement like this can be an easier first step towards talking about our own choices. Someone told me that they had been watching the tv show “Six Feet Under” with their relative. When a character was given a natural burial their relative said “that’s what I’d want”, and that’s what the family did when the time came.
This Smithsonian article can help us consider what feels important and of value to us for funerals and commemoration. The author reflects on his experiences when his father and father-in-law died within 3 days of each other. They had chosen very different types of funerals and the article can be a great starting point to weigh what feels right for ourselves.
Likewise, each chapter in the book Grave Matters presents a possible way to respond to death. One chapter, for example, shares the story of people choosing to have the ashes of their loved one included in a “reef ball” – a concrete ball that is placed into the ocean to help start a new reef. Something like that might be very meaningful to you and/or your loved one.
Planning in advance gives us time to think and feel our way through tough things. When the idea was raised about splitting up my mother’s ashes, I was horrified. If I’d had time to think about it, I would have realized the disconnect between the fact that I don’t believe that she was, herself, present in those ashes vs. the way it felt at the time, which was that it was as if we would be splitting her body up. The path we chose was fine, but not having any more emotional upheaval than necessary is so much better.
Give your family and loved ones some time to mull things over, including making financial decisions sensibly. Processing less conventional plans like natural burial may take extra time. Walk through each step of the plan together so there are no surprises. Remember and respect that each person may have different expectations and concerns, and that having a say in commemoration seems to help with subsequent grieving.
You can gather information when not under duress. You can find a funeral celebrant to help craft meaningful rituals, locate a cemetery where natural burial is possible, find a local home funeral guide or take a training. Funeral directors will give you an itemized price list upon your request, a requirement of The Funeral Rule. You can check the price surveys that your local chapter of the Funeral Consumers Alliance put on-line and then choose some to go look at if you will be holding any services there.
It’s hard enough to bring the issue of money into the equation ahead of time, let alone after someone has died. I’m thrilled that things like natural burial, home funerals, simple art-making and talking about death together can change the paradigm of how we express our love for someone and how we say goodbye.
“What’s interesting is that once you overcome your initial repulsion for this subject, learning about death really isn’t scary, depressing, or dangerous. Although obsessing blindly about death is horrifying, learning about it is empowering. The thought of death will always fill us with dread. There is no escaping that. But the fear is less paralyzing, less blinding, when we have knowledge, when we can talk openly about it, and when we discover that we actually have the power to reshape it, to make it a more loving and rich experience.” -from Talking About Death Won’t Kill You
Step #1 STRUCTURE IT IN
Step #2 find and use a PLANNING GUIDE
Step #3 learn from the FUNERAL CONSUMERS ALLIANCE
Step #4 draw upon INSIGHTS from bereavement research
Step #5 Find RITUALS that resonate with you
Step #6 Consider NATURAL BURIAL choices
Step #7 Consider HOME FUNERAL choices
Step #8 Think about a EULOGY
Step #9 Consider engaging with others at DEATH CAFES, etc
Step #10 Record INFO about survivors and what should be left to them
(1) informally and (2) with a legal will
Step #10 TALK with others
Sunday, May 27 Your last words