16 Things Smart People Do for End of Life Planning
You can leave your family scrambling to make arrangements—or calmly executing your wishes. Here’s what you need to know about planning for the end of life, whether it’s happening in months, years, or decades.
They pre-plan their own funeral
Arranging your service in advance is a way to spare family members a lot of taxing decision making. “You can go to any funeral home in the country and say you want to start a file to pre-plan your funeral. Our home has two cabinets full of pre-planned files that include who will sing, who will read, what the flowers will be, and some folks already have the clothes they want to wear hanging in our closet,” says Arrington, who adds that you don’t have to pre-pay to make these arrangements. “We got a call at 1 this morning that a death had occurred, and the family didn’t even have to walk in our door because all the planning had been done five years ago. Compare that to the family for whom nothing has been done, and they have to accept a death at 1 am, rush in here nine hours later and deal with the stress of trying to put this big puzzle of information together from scratch.” If you’re concerned about budget for a service, consider these money-saving tips from funeral directors.
They ask questions
“The last thing we want is for a family to say they wish they’d have known about a particular option two weeks after the funeral is over,” says Arrington. “It’s the funeral director’s job to explain all the information, and it’s the family’s job to ask questions if you’re not sure about something.” He adds that the biggest misunderstandings he currently sees involve cremation. “A lot of people don’t understand that cremation has nothing to do with memorialization. Even with cremation, you can still have the visitation and ceremony with the body that you would with a traditional funeral.” Everyone should know these basic rules of funeral etiquette.
They delegate their wishes
If you have multiple grown children, delegating responsibilities according to their professions and interests could help them avoid conflict and work together to deal with your loss. “In my own case, I have a mom with five headstrong kids who each thinks they know best,” says Radulovic. “So for example, one child could be put in charge of healthcare stuff, another could be in charge of financial stuff, and another could be in charge of the spiritual arrangements.”
They build their family’s legacy
Do your part for the family tree by making sure next generations know who past generations were. One simple step is labeling family photos. “I have a volunteer right now who’s going through pictures with a patient and making photo boxes to give out to her family,” says McMenamin. It’s equally important to collect remembrances and stories. Arrington recommends a program called Have the Talk of a Lifetime, which includes a deck of 50 conversation cards that prompt people to share their most significant memories. “It’s important to really know your family and pass those stories along,” he says. “Otherwise once that generation is gone the second and third generations may not even know their great grandaddy’s first name.” Curious about your family tree? These professional ancestry trackers can teach us a thing or two.
They say four things
At the end of life, the most meaningful discussions and regrets aren’t about careers or finances, but about relationships. “Sometimes baggage is carried into the last mile of the journey, such as reconciliation with loved ones,” says Katrina Scott, a board-certified oncology chaplain at Massachusetts General Hospital, who adds that one way to minimize such regrets is to make sure you say these four things to the people closest to you: forgive me; I forgive you; thank you; I love you. “These sentiments are ideally expressed as part of daily life, but they become especially important as things come to an end,” she says. Here’s how happy couples express their love.
They’re a role model
Even when facing your final days, you have the opportunity to set an example for your family. “Through the dying process, you can be a teacher to show loved ones it is possible to die without causing so much family friction that everyone will be afraid of their own death. That’s a gift you can give to the people you love,” says Scott. “Just tell them, ‘Everyone will eventually die; this is my time, and I’m going to try to do this with love and grace.’” Next, read some lessons about life from people who spend time with the dying.