Preparing for the End of Life
Rev. Rebecca Mihm
Are you prepared to die? No, this is not an evangelistic question about the state of your soul, or where you will go after you die. Rather, the question, “Are you prepared to die?” is about whether you have made plans for what happens to your body and your estate upon your death.
At the time of someone’s death, family members must make dozens of decisions within 48 hours. These decisions are thrust upon them at the worst time possible. Pre-planning helps guide family members and offers them peace in knowing that they are moving forward with the wishes of their loved one.
I have had many conversations with people (including one last week) and have heard stories about the difficulties family members have had upon the death of a loved one, beyond the expected grieving. Some of the difficulties I have heard were that they did not know the wishes of their loved one, or where important papers were kept, or that other family members had different understanding than they did of what their loved one may have desired.
We might feel young and invincible, but with few exceptions, nobody knows when they are going to die. I know that thinking about death is an unpleasant thought, but unless Jesus returns soon, we will all die someday. Some of us may live to be over 100 years old, but it is also possible that some unforeseen tragedy will occur that will take some of us sooner.
Do our loved ones know what we want regarding our body upon death? Do they know whether we prefer a bodily burial, cremation, or maybe donating our body to science? Do our loved ones know if we are an organ donor? Do they know where to find our important papers like our birth certificate, our parents’ birth certificates, our will, our life insurance policies, or military information.? Do we have a favorite hymn that we want at our funeral? Do our loved ones know our favorite Bible verse? Do we want certain people to be our pallbearers? Do we want to be wearing certain clothing, or have on glasses or jewelry? Do we want anything in particular in our casket like a Bible, a cross, or a picture? Do we want a funeral or a memorial service? Public or private?
Another reason we should have conversations with our loved ones now is because when we are faced with having to make the many decisions within 48 hours, we are not in a good frame of mind to think rationally. We might be prone to buy the most expensive casket or have the most elaborate service due to feelings of guilt or obligation. Maybe that is the best thing, or maybe it’s not. The best thing to do is to ask your loved one now what they want. I wouldn’t approach a loved one and ask, “Do you want the most beautiful and expensive funeral service upon your death?” I would ask, “What are your wishes upon your death?” If they say they want a bodily burial, then ask specific questions like, “Is there a type of casket you’d like,” “Do you want to be wearing something specific?” “How do you want to be remembered?”
The same is true for yourself. You have decisions to make for the end of your life, not just for family members. One consideration is arranging all the details in advance with a funeral home. It is possible to pre-pay for your needs and lock in prices to protect you from inflation. If you are concerned that your plans may change in the future, talk to a funeral home about what it would take to transfer your pre-planning to another location if the need should arise. Also, by securing a location in a cemetery or columbarium you are assured that it will not fill up by the time you need a space. If your whole family is currently at one cemetery, you might want to be sure your remains will be there with them, also.
Reluctance and Reassurance
Most people are reluctant to talk about death. Often, we only bring up the topic when it is forced upon us by circumstances which are often the worst times to bring up the topic as we are overwhelmed with emotions.
Preplanning one’s own funeral might sound morbid, be challenging, or be the last thing on our list of priorities, but it saves a lot of difficulties for loved ones when they are forced to make decisions at the worst time of their lives. Having these conversations now can save a world of anxiety and confusion later. Having these conversations can also prevent potential family arguments. Knowing our loved one’s wishes helps us to honor our loved ones in the way they want to be honored. Who knows? We might even learn some things about our loved ones that we didn’t know.
If you or your family are unaware of your options, shop around. Contact different funeral homes to see what they offer. Talk to a pastor, a hospice worker, or a hospital chaplain. Explore online. Ask family and friends what they have done, or plan to do.
Since I am new to Lakeland I don’t have any recommendations to make regarding funeral homes, but a quick internet search showed the following local funeral homes and their web addresses.
Lakeland Funeral Home, Gardens and Crematory
Heath Funeral Chapel and Crematory
David Russell Funeral Home and Cremation
Gentry-Morrison Funeral Home
Talk to your loved ones. Our loved ones do not need to disclose all the details of their information to us before they die if they do not want to, but hopefully they are at least willing to let us know where we can find important information upon their death. We are never too young nor too old to prepare.
Conversations can also go both ways. Perhaps it’s even better for us to be the initiator of telling loved ones our wishes. As time passes, we can make our wishes known if we change our minds.
Rev. Rebecca Mihm
Rebecca has served as our Associate Pastor of Discipleship since October 4, 2021. Prior to serving at FPC Lakeland, she served in various ministry roles in West Virginia, Massachusetts, Southeast Asia, and New York. Rebecca went to Geneva College where she earned a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts degree. Upon graduation she worked in urban ministry in New York City. Then she worked for US Airways for several years before sensing a call to go to seminary. She graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and spent several years doing ministry in Southeast Asia. Once in Massachusetts, she worked in Christian education, in crisis services, and with high utilizers of the emergency room. Before coming to FPC Lakeland, Rebecca served a congregation as a solo pastor in West Virginia. Rebecca enjoys hanging out with family and friends, walking/hiking, traveling, eating chocolate, and spoiling her fat cat, Oreo.