Write It Down!

Most adults have been to at least one or two funerals, wakes, memorial services, or other end-of-life service. And most folks have a sense of what they would like for their own such service – big, small, somber, up-beat, formal, casual, traditional, modern, and of course cremation or burial. The problem, of course, is that many people fail to communicate their wishes to their loved ones before it is too late. This leaves family and friends guessing as to what the deceased would have wanted at a time when the survivors are already under a great deal of stress.

This can all be avoided quite simply: tonight or this weekend, pull out a sheet of paper or open a new Word document. Write “Dear family, in the event of my death, I ask that you celebrate my memory as follows:” Then write down whatever comes to mind. Be sure to answer whether you’d like cremation or burial and if you have an idea of what sort of service should be performed, say so. Maybe you have music you’d like to have played, or a particular park where you’d like friends to gather in your memory, or a particular neck tie you’d like to be wearing at your viewing. The possibilities are endless, but the point is that your family and friends will be incredibly appreciative of you having expressed your desire, so that they know they are celebrating your memory the way you would have wanted.

And don’t just tell someone! It happens frequently that one survivor says “he told me he wanted to be scattered on a mountain” and another says “well, he told me he wanted to be scattered on the beach!” So write it down – it will only take a few minutes and you’ll be glad you did.

I had a client who wrote that he wanted to have a ceremony, and he wanted to have a priest present, but he didn’t want the priest to talk other than to offer a short blessing or prayer. Do you think his family would have thought of that had he not written it down? Do you think, absent his express instruction, his family would have the courage to tell the priest, “listen, dad had this thing about priests at funerals, so try to keep it short?”

A legal note: this letter isn’t legally binding. Having said that, it would be hard to imagine a family where the surviving loved ones would tear up the deceased’s plan for his or her own ceremony. If that is your family, well then you really need to talk to an attorney pronto!

Next step: Once you’ve written it down, share it with your family or at least put it someplace obvious, like with your estate plan. (You do have an estate plan, right?)

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