There are so many things in this world that are unpleasant and many things that are positive. Most people certainly do not view dying as one of those positive experiences. Perhaps they should. In death, as in life, is it not all a matter of attitude and perspective? How does one, therefore, prepare in this life to die well?
Here is one death care professional’s perspective.
I have the privilege of walking with many families through the process of death. I can assure you that everyone is different. Expectations shift, service needs change thus creating a service or celebration as unique as that individual. This often leads to a healing and positive experience for a grieving family.
However, first, we need to deal with the fact of death. Death will happen. Yet, death happens at so many different points in the journey. A long time ago, I stopped trying to guess what God’s plan may have been or rationalizing things we cannot know. For example, at the funeral home, we may have a month with a funeral for a 98-year-old woman, who was still living at home, sharp as a tack, and then died peacefully of natural causes. After her funeral we may a service for a 34-year-old who lived for years with a painful cancer and left a young family to mourn. Or maybe we are called to help a family through a full-term stillbirth, or a suicide, or traffic accident, or…. Can humans ever adequately explain why or when someone was taken from this earth? People often say, “It was time,” or “It was God’s will.” I do not believe those words to be helpful or true. I know the young widower will not see it the same as the 74-year-old son who just buried his mom. Instead, perhaps we should simply take life as it comes and accept death however we meet it for ourselves and those we love. We can lean on what the Lord has given us: our faith, our family and friends. For the faithful, grace lies in the fact that we get to be with our loved one again, for a much longer time, and in a better place. But for now, we can fall back to the idea that one day we will all die. What can I do today to die well tomorrow?
The clear starting point is faith. There is an obvious sense of peace in the faithful family that comes through our doors, comforted in the fact that their loved one was a believer and they will, one day, be reunited. Faith has such a huge role in our lives and dictates so much of what we do. When death occurs, there may be no bigger factor in the healing process. For those who do not have faith, the experience is often much different, much sadder event. Death then really becomes the final thing, there is nothing else to look forward to–no reconciliation.
Those emotions and undertones that are present at a funeral rub off me. People often comment, “I don’t know how you do what you do.” The truth is I was called by God to do this and I accept my role. I do it to fulfill my purpose and glorify God. I have the opportunity to help people when they are hurting and most at need, but most importantly, I am able to do this because of my faith.
So for the faithful person who have accepted death in whatever form it may come, what can they do to die well? Granted, for the loved one that we memorialize, my influence as a funeral director may be somewhat limited. There are many professionals they deal with an individual at the end of life: pastors, doctors, hospice staff, spouse, relatives, etc. The death process has often run its course before I am welcomed into a grieving family for that week or two. The general public does not typically take the day off, decide to stroll out into the sunshine and whistle their way down to the local mortuary to talk about their own funeral. But perhaps they should. After all, most morticians are very good people–generally very compassionate, understanding, and genuinely care about those they live with in their community. Wouldn’t that be a smart thing to do – not for you, but for those you leave behind?
You can plan, arrange, and pay for your funeral ahead of time. It is a common sense idea that, from my perspective, provides a key component to dying well. Here is why: there may not be a better or bigger gift that you could give a family member than planning your own funeral. It may not sound like much now, but I can attest to the differences in planning a service for someone who has things prepared and a service that has not been pre-planned. Just ask anyone who has been though a funeral lately, and find out if anything was pre-arranged. Then ask how it affected their experience. No one has ever regretted the fact that their mom or dad took the time to plan ahead.
Here is my advice: At least start the conversation, discuss things with your pastor, your parents, your kids, and your funeral director. Someday your family will be walking through my doors to plan a funeral for you and there are two ways they come in. One: you may have written down directions, wishes, thoughts, Scripture passages, music, food ideas, special instructions, and possibly even put funds aside to pay for a service. Or two: your family walks into the funeral home distraught, unsure, and emotionally drained and is now tasked with making all these decisions in a time of grief. It is absolutely worth the time to faithfully prepare for the inevitable now and be able to say to your family, “I love you enough to pre-plan and pre-fund this for you so you, my family, are able to focus on each other.”