Jun 242011

Handwritten journalAs a member of the clergy, I encountered situations where the close circle of family and friends of someone who had died were faced with a distressing quandary: that person had left absolutely clear directions for their own funeral.

The problem?

The directions left did not meet the needs of those who were bereaved. They had to weigh their own needs against the express instructions left to them and it created great difficulties and sometimes even conflict

Perhaps most difficult were situations where the person who had died disdained the idea of a funeral of any sort, while those who mourned felt the need for such an occasion to process their grief and experience the support of a significant community in their loss.

I recommend to people who care to do so, to leave some notes for those who will be charged with planning a service of remembrance and/or celebration. These notes may suggest possible readings or music selections but clearly leave the decision-making to those who will be attending the service. This has the benefit of providing some guidance without inhibiting those whose needs are to be addressed by the funeral or memorial service itself.

Thus I suggest that there are 4 reasons NOT to fully plan your own service, including these facts:

  • circumstances may change between the time you set down guidelines in writing and the time the service following your death occurs,
  • individuals who you might have hoped would participate in such a service may not be willing or available,
  • those who are bereaved may have needs you can’t anticipate, and most importantly,
  • the service is not for you, but for those you leave behind.

Don’t leave your loved ones in a straight-jacket. Give them wide open permission, perhaps even in writing, to decide what makes best sense to them in the event of your death. Suggestions are a great idea but entrust the broad sweeps of the plan to your loved ones.


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