Most of us will have some type of funeral or memorial service; we will probably be interred in a cemetery or cremated, with our ashes distributed according to our instructions. If we are leaving family and loved ones behind, there are likely to be sad relatives and lots of tears. It all seems very simple, clear and preordained. However, are there ways to change the feelings surrounding our death?
What if we could completely alter the process? No, there is no way to prevent our death. We may not even be able to predict when it will happen or postpone it. However, with a little creativity, planning and forethought, we can change the way both we and our loved ones will experience our death. What are some ways we can do that?
Plan the End of Your Life
One of the first things you can do is think about how you want to spend your final days, should you be given the opportunity to choose. Do you want to die at home or in a hospital? Would you prefer to cease treatment and get palliative, hospice care, instead? Do you want your loved ones to be with you at the end?
What type of atmosphere do you want? You can set the mood. Do you want those last few days to be sad and tearful, or would you rather spend the time talking about all the happy memories of your life?
How to Change the Mood Surrounding Your Death
I love my children enough that it would break my heart to see them in tears while I was dying. I would rather have them focus on the happy and funny experiences we have enjoyed together. When I die, my goal will be to provide all the comfort I can to them. What are some ways to do that?
1. Put together photo albums to share with your loved ones at the end of your life. Personalize them with photos of specific memories you had with each of them. This could be a wonderful way to keep the conversation light and happy. I went to a memorial service recently at which I was handed a DVD of the slide show about the deceased that was shown during the service. The man had volunteered as a hospital clown through his church, and it was very touching to be able to play the DVD at home and see all the joy that had been part of his life.
2. Write letters to the people you care about ... and it doesn't have to be only your family members. One of our friends died of lung cancer a few years ago. He owned a construction company and, during the last few weeks of his life, he wrote a letter to each of his sub-contractors, telling them how much he appreciated their years of service and giving them each one final payment.
I have also heard of parents who were dying far too young, who wrote a series of letters to their children that they could read each year on their birthdays. The letters are usually meant to encourage them and include the things you would like to say to your children at each age. In some cases, parents have even made DVDs for their children, so they can speak to them in a more personal way.
3. After gifting - This was an idea I found in an article called "Death Redesigned," in the April 5, 2015 issue of The California Sunday Magazine. You can arrange to have birthday gifts sent to family members for years after you die. The gifts could even be something you made for each of them or a special item for a grandchild you have never met. I think this is an especially caring thing to do if you are leaving behind young children. It will bring them comfort to know that you were thinking of them and planning for them, even during the final few weeks of your life.
You don't have to limit yourself to family. I recently read about a man in Great Britain who had a group of close friends that he would go with to the local pub. He left them 3500 pounds (about $5000) so they could have a trip and a big party, at his expense. This seemed like so much more fun for them than a terribly sad wake back at home.
4. Messages from Beyond - The "Death Redesigned" article mentioned above also speculated about the idea of arranging for text messages to be sent to loved ones after your death. This might work in some families; in others it might seem creepy or make it hard for them to move on. Only you can decide whether this would be the right move for your family. One of the points they made was how a widow would feel if she was on a date three years later and received a text message from her deceased husband. If you decide to try this, make sure you write something loving and supportive; you will also not want these messages to go on for more than a few weeks or months. We all need to find a good time to let go of our loved ones.
5. Share Your Story - So many times I have heard people say that they wished they had written down the stories that their grandparents shared about their lives. Why don't you do it for your descendants? Write down your memories and pass them on. You can do something as simple as a typed document that you print out at home. Or, you can get more elaborate and write it in book form, using a free service like Amazon's CreateSpace website. They will produce paperback books that you and your family members can order for $5 or $6. Order a couple of dozen of them yourself to be given out at your funeral. Your descendants will appreciate knowing more about the lives of their ancestors and you will feel good knowing that your memories, experiences and dreams will not die with you.
One of our neighbors, who grew up in Korea before he and his wife moved to the United States, wrote a biography of their early years for his children and grandchildren. He also had extra copies printed out and gave them to his neighbors and friends. I enjoyed reading about his early life and I am sure his descendants really appreciated the fact that he made the effort to do this.
Taking Care of Your Will and Basic Funeral Plans
If you want to lighten the load on your family members, you will want to take care of all the basics, as well. Make sure you have consulted with an attorney and written your will, trust, and advance directive. Be sure you have put together a list of bank accounts, life-insurance policy numbers, user names and passwords for Facebook and other social media you use and put this information with your will. In addition, you should give this information to the executor of your will.
You may also want to include any special instructions you have for where you want to be buried, specific requests for your funeral service, and any other messages you want to leave your loved ones. We wrote a message to our daughters that we want them to read upon our death.
My husband and I have put together a notebook labeled "In The Event of Our Deaths." We set it out whenever we are on a trip ... just in case something happens. We have included copies of all our important information in our notebook, including copies of our will, special instructions, insurance information and anything else we thought would be helpful to them. In addition, we made a copy of the information in this notebook and gave it to the daughters we chose to be our co-executors. We wanted to make life as simple for them as possible.
While you may not want to do everything listed in this article, hopefully it will inspire you to redesign your own death in such a way that, while you cannot prevent your death, you feel as if you are going out on your own terms ... and that is the best any of us can do.
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