While the first chapter in your book of life may have begun with you as a completely innocent participant in your own affairs, the final pages will likely have your fingerprints all over them. With birth comes the inevitability of death. It certainly behooves us all to recognize and respect this fact of life, along with all of the implications it has for those who will survive us. With this in mind, it is better to plot the script for the final chapter than to leave the end for someone else to write. Funeral prearrangement enables you to choose the specific terms of your funeral and burial or cremation. Because these decisions are deeply personal, only you should make them.
QUOTE: “I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength in distress, and grow brave by reflection.”
Leonardo da Vinci
The rituals and customs surrounding death, burial, or cremation demonstrate the universal urge to exert some degree of control over uncontrollable natural forces. Because it’s difficult to accept the reality of death, most of us like to believe that we can, at least, maintain some degree of control over the physical challenges that stretch between birth and death. Only through faith can we confront the ultimate mystery of existence without despair. There are many forms of faith, all of which promise some form of continued existence, from an exaggerated sense of worldly bliss to union with the Supreme Being. Within this promise is a glimpse of what we want to believe lies beyond the terrestrial realm awaiting humankind after death.
QUOTE: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
YOUNG CHILDREN’S RESPONSE TO DEATH
When attempting to gauge a very young child’s response to the death of a close family member, it is important to know that children between the ages of 3 and 5 years have little understanding of the irreversibility of death. Even when very young children are told about impending death ahead of time, they are still likely to ask when the deceased will return, weeks or months later. Once young children receive a concrete explanation of death, they are likely to display signs of grieving. Young children are also easily overwhelmed by the intense emotional reactions of those around them. With this in mind, we should remain very attentive to the emotional needs of very young children who are grieving.
QUOTE: “Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.”
IN THE FINAL HOURS
Those of us who choose to stay by the sides of those who are dying should be alert for signs that death is approaching. In the weeks and days leading up to death, terminally ill patients are likely to sleep more, eat less, lose strength, become less social, become more confused, experience more pain, and exhibit dropping body temperature and other changes in their vital signs. During the final hours, it will become increasingly more evident that their heart rate will decrease, as their heart and other organs begin to shut down. At this time, it is important that the dying be made to feel as comfortable as possible. Conversation should be kept up until the last possible moment.
QUOTE: “Seeing death as the end of life is like seeing the horizon as the end of the ocean.”
MAKING A FINAL SWEEP
In addition to drawing up our wills and making funeral prearrangements, Swedish artist and author Margareta Magnusson believes that we should help smooth the transition surrounding our eventual demise by taking at least one more important step. In her book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” Ms. Magnusson advocates that people declutter their homes and get rid of unnecessary possessions before they die so that their children will not be burdened with the task of sorting through a lifetime of things. By performing this late-in-life task, parents help their children avoid the perplexing task of trying to decide what their parents would have wanted them to save and where to store these items.
When those we have loved have passed, we create a vision of them in our imaginations. Fortified as well as comforted by these images, we remember them and imagine their delight as we look into the eyes of their grandchildren and partake of the daily joys that they once found to be so pleasurable. Every time we light a candle, cook a favorite meal, visit a treasured destination, and meet with family, we have an opportunity to conjure up the image of a loved one who has passed and think of the many ways that he or she added to our appreciation of life. The dead provide the foundation upon which we live.
QUOTE: “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
BODY AND SOUL
The art and science of preserving the bodies of the dead was originally practiced by the ancient Egyptians, who were the first people to believe in the immortality of the soul. They undertook the elaborate process of mummification in the belief that the soul would never foresake the body as long as the body remained intact. Embalming preserved the body so the soul could return to it after the completion of the “circle of necessity,” a 3,000-year journey that the soul was required to make before it could return to the body and live with the gods forever. Modern embalmers continue the important process of body preservation so that the bodies of deceased individuals can be displayed and accorded respect.
QUOTE: “To fear death is to misunderstand life.”
IT IS YOUR DECISION
Funeral prearrangement is a two-step process that involves making funeral arrangements as outlined in the preneed contract, followed by a discussion of the funding. During the first phase, a discussion will take place of services such as embalming and other preparations, providing funeral vehicles and transportation services, the funeral ceremony, and facilities for visitation. Decisions will also have to be made concerning the selection of a casket/urn, outer burial container, and other merchandise such as flowers, acknowledgment cards, and transfer containers. Finally, cost considerations may be finalized through life insurance, bank trust agreement, or other method. It is possible to select funeral goods and services without pre-funding the funeral, but cash-advance items and services may require reimbursement.
QUOTE: “We are not content to pass away entirely from the scenes of our delight; we would leave, if but in gratitude, a pillar and a legend.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
In order that the dead reach the land of eternity, the ancient Greeks believed that the deceased must make a journey across the river Styx. A coin was placed in the mouth of the deceased to pay for the passage, and a honey cake was placed next to the body to appease the dog Cerberus, who guarded the entrance to Hades. As for the ancient Romans, they would wash the deceased’s body with hot water and oil daily for seven days. A group of slaves, called pollinctores, performed this function. Funeral processions were held at night to avoid defilement of the living. The procession was managed by a Designator, who functioned in much the same capacity of modern funeral directors.
QUOTE: “After your death, you will be what you were before your birth.”
A MATTER OF SAFETY
In societies less advanced than ours, it’s not uncommon to read stories in worldwide media involving individuals being buried alive after the local authorities have incorrectly deemed them to be dead. The possibility of a premature burial occurring today in this country is nearly impossible, because a medical determination of death and a death certificate are requirements for burial. However, centuries ago, when comatose and unconscious individuals were not so easily distinguishable from the dead, it was possible for U.S. citizens to be buried alive. Consequently, so-called “safety coffins” were developed, which had devices (a string attached from the hand of the buried person to an aboveground bell) that would enable prematurely buried individuals to convey their status to passersby.
QUOTE: “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”
THE SOCIAL SECURITY DEATH BENEFIT
Upon the death of his or her husband or wife, the surviving spouse who is living in the same household may be entitled to receive a one-time lump sum benefit of $255. If there is no spouse, a dependent child (generally age 18 or under) may then be eligible for this one-time death benefit. In order to qualify, the deceased worker must have been considered to be “currently insured,” which means he or she had at least six quarters of earnings covered by Social Security withholding during the full 13-quarter period prior to his or her death. It is recommended that a death be immediately reported to the Social Security Administration in order to get the needed paperwork.
QUOTE: “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”