Death: It is something that the American culture, as a rule, denies. Not the inevitability of it but rather that it is imminent. Some of us are allowed the grace period of an extended illness or the dwindling of vitality that comes with the aging process, others not so much. Just look at the daily paper or listen to the nightly news and you will be confronted with auto accidents, fires, other natural disasters, be they large or small. All of these victims have left behind families, friends and loved ones to mourn their passing.
Wouldn't the caring thing to do be an establishment of some guidelines that they could follow regarding the final wishes as to one's memorialization?
A Precautionary Note
Some people believe that if they include their final wants and desires in their will, that all will be accomplished. However, in most cases, the will is not read or probated until some time, often weeks or months, following a death, far beyond the time of the funeral.
Likewise, if instructions are left in a safety deposit box at a financial institution, that box is sealed upon knowledge of the death until such time that a certified copy of the death certificate can be presented, again a delay which may violate certain religious instructions regarding the time before which the deceased must be interred.
So it can be seen that a pre-arranged funeral is often desired but poorly executed.
What Is Pre-Arrangement?
Pre-arrangement does not necessarily mean pre-financed. While often used interchangeably, strictly speaking they are not the same. Making arrangements may be as simple as determining if one wishes to have a church service or not and where any such service is held, at the church, funeral home or graveside.
What Should Be Included?
The short answer is anything and everything that is important to the individual. Religious services, selection of hymns, Scripture readings, poems, personal observations from friends and families, fraternal order services such as Masonic rites, Knights of Columbus, Elk, Eagles, Odd-fellows, Boy or Girl Scouts and even social clubs and organizations may all be included, according to their availability and ability to coincide. And don't forget veteran's organizations if one has served in the military. Often a military escort, including a flag detail and a gun salute, is provided by a veterans' group such as the VFW or American Legion, especially if the honoree was a member.
With families often scattered across the nation, no one can take floral tributes home with themselves, so the option of donations to a local charity should be offered, and those charities may be determined beforehand according to their desires.
Wants and Desires
Thus far we have considered positive wants and desires, but there may be negative wants and desires as well. An avid sports fan may request to be buried in the team colors or uniform and forbid the wearing of the opponent's colors to their services. Or they may not wish donations be made in their name to various groups. In such a case, a politely phrased positive statement is encouraged rather than an outright ban. Instead of "no flowers," use "in lieu of flowers."
This might include ones' wishes for body donation to schools of medicine, if possible, or cremation and scattering of remains, typically referred to as ashes, as opposed to earth burial. Requests that the family determine if the casket should remain open during visitation may also be made.
Supplying a guideline will allow the most difficult questions to be answered with a firm sense of honoring the deceased's final wishes.