In Winnipeg in a January blizzard, there are few places as toasty and sheltered as a crematorium. I know this because I worked in one. When the cremation chamber, or retort, is firing at 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit (900 Celsius), the work space is balmy, like a ski lodge. The noise of the powerful gas jets is buffered by the stone and steel of the machinery. When the gear is running, all you hear is a low, soothing rumble. It’s peaceful. I used to read Eudora Welty short stories while the body burned, stopping regularly to monitor temperatures and stoke the remains with an iron hook passed through a small, eye-level porthole in the oven door. The process is conducive to reflection.
Cremation seems clinical: fire, ashes. But in fact there is enormous spiritual heft behind it. We talk about the cleansing power of fire. As a funeral rite it goes back to the Bronze Age at least. “Fire,” writes the philosopher Gaston Bachelard, “magnifies human destiny, it links the small to the great, the hearth to the volcano.” Man “hears the call of the funeral pyre” not as destruction but as a road to renewal. This is overstating the case, as French philosophers do, but it still scans. Now try saying the same about a chemical process.
Last week, I read a story about a new process called alkaline hydrolysis. In a nutshell, it’s like cremation without the fire: The body is immersed in chemicals in a cylindrical device that looks (judging from the photo, as I’ve never seen one up close) like a large telescope with an Instant Pot lid. The chemicals break down the soft tissue, which is flushed away, leaving behind bones and any non-organic residue such as tooth fillings or artificial hips. The device is called a Resomator, a Doctor-Whovian commercial euphemism for what is basically a body-dissolving machine.
Industry licensing bodies such as the Bereavement Authority of Ontario are not sure what to make of alkaline hydrolysis. Is it safe to just flush the liquefied organic material into the city sewage system? Are there health risks? Is it dangerous or just very, very creepy? Is it any creepier than cremation – or burial for that matter? For now, though, its main selling point is that alkaline hydrolysis is considered greener, or less carbon-intensive, than other methods.
According to the Ecology Action Centre, the average cemetery buries 4,500 litres of formaldehyde, 97 tonnes of steel and 56,000 board feet of hardwood per acre. A single cremation, which intuitively (and emotionally) seems so clean and efficient, uses as much fossil-fuel energy as an 800-kilometre car trip. Sulphur dioxide and mercury are released into the atmosphere, up the flue. That warm feeling on a January day in Winnipeg comes at an ecological cost.
Meanwhile, hydrolysis uses one-eighth the energy spent in cremation. There is no embalming, no casket or container. Even with cremation, there is always a container of some kind, including, in my experience, very expensive hardwood caskets with brass trimmings. So alkaline hydrolysis is marketing itself thusly: your green alternative.
When you’re dead, there are few options for what happens next. I don’t mean spiritually – that’s between you and your God or His/Her metaphysical substitute. I mean with the body. We all leave a remainder. Some more than others. You can bury it, sink it in the sea, leave it in the trees or on hilltops to be devoured by carrion birds – known technically as excarnation, a natural process of removing the flesh before earth burial (in Tibetan and Comanche cultures, known as sky burial) – or most commonly you can burn it. In Canada, the cremation rate varies by region, but in 2018 more than 61 per cent of the dead in Ontario and Manitoba and more than 71 per cent in Quebec were cremated. The national cremation rate is expected to rise to 76.9 per cent by 2023, according to the Cremation Association of North America.
For the funeral industry, cremation has always been a shoe that pinches. It’s an industry based on the pricing of intangibles: the meaning of life and death, ritual, the concept of “closure.” It has been able to translate the emotional turbulence of death into product (caskets, vaults, embalming) and real estate (cemeteries), but over the past 50 years has watched as a cultural revolution changed everything. Religion loosened its hold, and fewer people felt bound by tradition. Cremation was cheaper. People moved around – for work, for relationships – and the idea of a permanent resting place lost its appeal. Postmodernism struck the funeral industry: Meaning and ritual came down to personal taste.
So the industry reinvented itself. Funerals became “celebrations of life,” and funeral directors became event planners like those who booked weddings (and the cost of weddings, they noticed, was skyrocketing). If cremation was on the rise, it could surely be monetized: urns shaped like golf bags, garden watering cans or basketballs, depending on the hobbies of the dead in question. Cemeteries focused on marketing columbaria, the small, above-ground vaults for urns.
I once met a cemetery salesman who assured me that scattering human remains was illegal (not true) and that he himself once stepped on a human bone on a beach in British Columbia (unlikely, as most crematoria process the remains to a fine, biologically inert powder). His sales pitch was simple: Only the industry knows how to handle what we all leave behind – the rest of us are not equipped. It’s a powerful message. As Jessica Mitford, author of The American Way of Death, found out, people will pay to avoid dealing with death and will subcontract what is basically an existential puzzle (what’s to become of me?) to a professional.
But it’s possible to be too clinical. We like at least a little meaning with our rituals, especially the death rituals. “Belief in a future state,” writes Bertram S. Puckle in Funeral Customs: Their Origin and Development, a 1926 text, “presupposed a material existence after death, with corresponding material necessities. Food must be provided, weapons and clothing, and a supply of charms with which to ward off evil influences.” And so even today people are buried with iPhones or cremated with a blanket from home. This is not superstition. It is about doing the right thing, even if the thing is a complete mystery. Alkaline hydrolysis is maybe too much like a chemistry experiment to bear much meaning.
And the industry continues to adapt and innovate. An Italian company used to market the Capsula Mundi, a starch-based, acorn-like pod that calls for no headstone as it, with the body, dissolves in time as compost and produces a tree. Demand, it turns out, was slim. Now the company offers an egg-like urn for cremated remains that does the same job for US$457 – tree not included. (But again, there’s the carbon footprint of the cremation itself.)
Straight-up green burial – in a shroud, with no embalming, in a legally designated forest (the law frowns on “freelance” burial) – is sparsely available. The industry has never embraced it.
Maybe it expects greater things from alkaline hydrolysis. After all, if meaning is and always will be knit deeply into our death rituals, it ticks the right boxes: In life, we rejected plastic straws and used twirly light bulbs. In death, we were thus safely melted. Carve it into your tombstone.
In a gorgeous plot of land that was once the site of the Battle of Arnhem in World War II, the Trappistine Sisters of the Abbey of Koningsoord in the Netherlands have opened a new cemetery where they will be providing natural burials.
“Natural burial” is a term that describes the burial practices of humankind for the majority of history. The process avoids embalming chemicals, as well as steel or cement vaults that are placed underground to protect the coffin from the natural course of decomposition.
These natural burials are becoming more popular today, as they are substantially more eco-friendly than the modern burial. According to Order of the Good Death, a website that supports the return to natural burial, modern burial practices can take a hefty toll on the environment, and squander valuable non-renewable and non-biodegradable resources. They write:
“American funerals are responsible each year for the felling of 30 million board feet of casket wood … 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid. Even cremation is an environmental horror story, with the incineration process emitting many a noxious substance, including dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and climate-changing carbon dioxide.”
At the Trappistines’ new cemetery, known as Koningsakker — King’s Field — the nuns are trying to remedy these ecosystem compromising factors by returning to the old methods of burial. Hettie van der Ven of Crux news reports that bodies there are not encased within a casket, but rather wrapped in a burial shroud made from linen, jute, hemp and wool that will biodegrade much faster. This avoids wasting natural resources and burying forever materials that would have impeded the decomposition process.
The sisters told Katholiek Nieuwsblad Foundation, a Dutch Catholic news organization, that they were inspired to open the cemetery by their American sister-house, The Trappistine Sisters of the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Cross, in Virginia, who opened their own natural burial cemetery several years ago. The cemetery will provide the sisters with funds to sustain them, along with a book bindery and a restoration workshop.
While originally intended to serve as a Catholic cemetery, Koningsakker is now a public cemetery and the nuns welcome people of all faiths and walks of life, even those who come from foreign lands. The nuns feel that this was the right way to go, as it gives their graveyard an opportunity to impact a much wider range of the community. Riny Bergervoet, the cemetery’s location manager, said:
“Natural burials are a perfect fit for this day and age. At the end of their lives, people are looking for connection with the ground they came from and on which they are living … Choosing this as a resting place is a testimony to one’s identity. People know that we are praying for them on a daily basis, which they find very uplifting.”
CruxNews reports that Koningsakker currently only has four people buried on their property, but dozens have already reserved a plot. It’s only a matter of time before this “natural cemetery” will be full of people visiting their beloved lost.
With restrained camera work, “Departing Gesture” shows the process of a solitary funeral and burial, tended to by funeral-home staff.
By Sarah Larson
Jonathan Napolitano and Brian Bolster’s eleven-minute documentary “Departing Gesture” opens inside a suburban-style funeral home, with a long shot of a visitation room, where a white-haired man in a red necktie appears to be setting up for a wake. The casket is open, the flower arrangements generous and autumnal. The only people we see are the man in the coffin and the man taking care of him. “It happens more than you think,” a man’s says, in a voice-over. “Maybe ten or twelve deaths a year, I think, where their family would abandon them and never come back.” The film gives us a minute to contemplate this—the screen goes dark and shows a title card, and then the camera lingers on an exterior shot of the tidy funeral home. Who would abandon their late relatives, and why?
“Departing Gesture,” the first film in The New Yorker’s new series highlighting short documentaries, sheds light on this story patiently and with care. It focusses on the Sebrell Funeral Home, in Ridgeland, Mississippi, whose director, Trey Sebrell, is the person we have just heard speaking. Bolster’s camera observes the funeral home, both its public-facing rooms and its behind-the-scenes areas—offices, an embalming room—as we listen to Sebrell talk. “It’s one of those professions that, once you’re involved, you feel like you’re serving,” he says. “Even if I did not love working for myself, I still would be a funeral director and an embalmer at another funeral home in Mississippi.” As Sebrell goes about his work, in a suit and cufflinks, his movements have a calm certitude.
Sebrell Funeral Home has a partnership with a local charity, Grace House, which provides care and housing for people with H.I.V./AIDS; Sebrell cares for its dead, some of whom are ultimately abandoned by the family members who survive them. These families don’t hold a service and don’t want their relative’s remains. In the film, we watch the process of a solitary funeral, of sorts, and a burial, tended to by funeral-home staff.
Many of us have been in funeral homes like Sebrell’s and have attended memorials of various sizes—the wakes that teem with mourners, the calling hours that feel underpopulated. Either circumstance can enhance the sad surreality of death; in this case, the sadness is heightened further still. Bolster’s camera remains static, at a respectful distance, as it watches people at work: a man with flowers, a woman tending to the deceased’s makeup, pallbearers bringing the casket to the hearse. Other shots show us caskets, a lectern, the embalming room and its tools, embroidered seat covers that say “pallbearers.” The restrained camerawork subtly heightens the contrast between life and death, movement and stillness.
Bolster and Napolitano met on the film-festival circuit and have worked together on several projects; for “Departing Gesture,” Bolster shot and Napolitano edited. They met Sebrell in the course of working on a feature, still in development, about H.I.V./AIDS in the American South. The South has become the epicenter of the crisis in the United States, owing to factors including poverty, cuts to health-care funding, and social stigma. And H.I.V. infection in rural areas and smaller cities is on the rise. “I’m very interested in issues of regret,” Bolster told me. As a boy growing up in Massachusetts in the eighties, knowing that he was gay, Bolster watched reports of the unfolding AIDS crisis and the ignorance and fear that surrounded it. “Families abandoned their kids in hospitals,” he said. “I thought, This is what’s going to happen to me.” In 2019, an era of PrEP, undetectable H.I.V. viral loads in well-cared-for patients, and nationwide marriage equality, it can be stunning to see and hear about present-day ignorance that reminds us of decades past—for example, when Sebrell mentions a local funeral home that refused to collect a man’s body after learning that he was gay. “Departing Gesture” gives us a window into such stories with compassion, through Sebrell’s empathy and its own.
Evie Vargas had always been drawn to death. That sounds morbid, or possibly extremely goth, but her interest wasn’t in the afterlife nor the aesthetics. Vargas wanted to pursue a profession rooted in service, and entering the death care industry was a calling — an inexplicable calling that, once she began work, seemed like destiny.
Throughout high school, Vargas considered attending mortuary science school, but worried she wouldn’t be able to handle the sight of a dead body. Still, she knew that a two-year program could lead to an associate’s degree, an apprenticeship, and eventually a mortician job.
To gauge her nerves, Vargas decided to go to a place that would expose her to death firsthand: a funeral home in Illinois.
There, she shadowed an embalmer, who offered her a part-time job after their first session. “He said he saw something in me,” Vargas says, still amazed at how prescient the offer turned out to be. “I didn’t have a license to embalm so I did makeup, dress, and casket.” She’s worked there since graduating from mortuary school.
Even after eight years in the industry, makeup and hair is still a special part of her job, Vargas says. As a funeral director, she does “basically everything” — administrative work, service preparation, meeting with family members, embalming bodies. But she thinks mortuary makeup work is uniquely intimate and significant.
Makeup plays a starring role at many funeral services — the last time family members will physically see their loved ones before the casket is closed. These services are usually done by a certified embalmer, a person tasked with cleaning and preparing the body, who takes on the burden of replicating a person’s likeness and essence. Makeup artists — whether embalmers, funeral directors, or freelance workers — find meaning in this ritualistic work of dressing a body, mulling over the details of its presentation, and receiving input from the family. It can help loved ones grieve, artists say, in remembering a person at their best.
Embalming a body and applying eyeshadow seem to demand different skills, but the work contributes to the body’s final presentation. Embalming is typically the first step; fluids are injected into a body during the process to slow its decomposition for the funeral ceremony.
According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance, the process could give the body a more “life-like” appearance, although it isn’t always required. Amber Carvaly, a funeral director at Undertaking LA in California, doesn’t think embalming is necessary for most natural deaths, although it might firm up the skin more. She says that applying makeup on a body isn’t drastically different than working on a living person.
Carvaly has an array of products in her makeup kit — typically thicker theatrical makeup for discoloration or jaundiced bodies — but drugstore brands like Maybelline Cosmetics work fine. There are little techniques and tricks she’s picked up, for example, in applying lipstick on a dead person’s lips, which are much less firm.
She uses a pigmented gloss or mixes a dry lipstick to paint the color on. Vargas prefers using an airbrush kit for a more natural look, since it provides full coverage and is easier than applying foundation.
Carvaly doesn’t work with bodies as much as she likes to anymore, ever since cremation overtook burials as the preferred means of after-life care in 2015. While there is no proven correlation between price and popularity, cremation is cheaper than a burial. According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the average burial and viewing costs $8,508, while the average cremation and viewing comes out to $6,260.
Post-death makeup is only a fraction of the cost for burials — an average of $250 per funeral, according to the NFDA — but the added costs aren’t worth it for some, Carvaly says. Many families struggle emotionally and logistically in the aftermath of a death, she adds. The logistics that go into the burial ceremony, especially dress and makeup, are often the last things on their minds.
A common complaint from families is that a body doesn’t look like their living relative. The embalmer might have parted their hair differently or used an unfamiliar lipstick color. Carvaly points out that family members can do makeup on their loved ones before the body is sent to a home. But if they’re uncomfortable with that, she encourages them to assist the embalmer with the makeup and presentation.
“Doing makeup with the family present is extremely rewarding,” she says, adding that family members’ input makes it much easier to capture the aesthetic essence of a person. It’s helpful for the families as well: “When you’re grieving, having a physical or artistic activity can help walk you through it.”
Years before Carvaly went to mortuary school in Los Angeles, she worked as a cosmetologist on film sets. She’s changed careers multiple times — from makeup to nonprofit work to the death care industry. Like Vargas, Carvaly is dedicated to the service aspect of her job, and she sees makeup as a physical manifestation of that service.
In her seven years of work, Carvaly’s found that most people are uncomfortable in the presence of a dead body, even in preparation for the burial. “I’m more than happy to do makeup for a family if this is something they don’t think they have the strength to do,” she says. “But I want them to know that they have options.”
On rare occasions, she brings along makeup or hair tools for families to touch up their loved ones at the service. She once worked on a woman with blonde, beehive-style hair that she struggled to recreate. At the funeral, Carvaly suggested that the woman’s daughters help her touch it up — a request they were initially shocked by.
“Allowing people to be a part of the funeral is important,” Carvaly says. “Keeping that veil of magic up prevents regular people from doing something very valuable.” Families shouldn’t hesitate to ask a funeral home if they can do their loved ones’ hair and makeup, which could reduce costs, she says.
Shifting social norms and new funeral practices, like eco-friendly burial options, have driven homes to find ways to increase profits — often at the expense of families, who are missing out on an opportunity to properly grieve, Carvaly explains.
“There is no law that prohibits people from coming into a home and requesting that they do makeup on the deceased,” she wrote in an e-mail. And while Carvaly feels that her job is a calling, the daily human interaction can be taxing. The most difficult part of being a funeral director, she says, is explaining why people have to pay for certain services that the home offers.
It’s what upsets people the most, but homes also have to pay for overhead expenses — the indirect costs of operating a business. Carvaly’s funeral home, Undertaking LA, opts to rent time and space from another crematory.
Carvaly’s funeral home co-founder, Caitlin Doughty, has found unprecedented success on YouTube under the account Ask A Mortician, a series where Doughty takes questions about her work and about death.
Demystifying death is a big part of Undertaking LA’s mission — to put the dying person and their family back in control of the dying process and the care of the body. It’s a liberal “death positive” approach, one that Carvaly likens to “breaking down the walls and windows” of a rigid centuries-old industry. Vargas feels similarly, and tries to destigmatize the death industry on her YouTube channel.
After a death occurs, families often immediately send the body to a funeral home and don’t interact with their loved ones until the ceremony. And sometimes, they’re taken aback by the body’s made up appearance. Reclaiming the makeup process can be a cathartic first step, as an unexpected outlet for grief, and eventually acceptance of the death itself.
While it’s not something many people think about until faced with the issue, obtaining a credit report for a dead person is important. You may need to make sure the credit report is accurate and take stock of any creditors you need to notify of the death, or see if there’s any unresolved debt that you’re not aware of.
It’s not uncommon for criminals to try to take advantage of the fact that someone who has died isn’t checking their credit, which can increase the chances of identity theft and credit card fraud. That’s why it’s crucial to handle this process as quickly as possible.
Obtaining someone else’s credit report
In general, only the person who is the subject of the credit report should have access to it. But there are times when you may need to pull someone else’s report, such as the death of a loved one. Other instances may be when you’re checking someone’s credit as part of an application for a job or a rental property or if you’re helping someone work on their credit. Here are some commonly asked questions about obtaining someone else’s report.
How do you check someone’s credit history? You must have permission to check someone’s credit history, which can be as simple as them checking a box on a rental or job application. Once you have their permission, you can use their Social Security number, name and date of birth to do a background check that includes a credit history.
Can you look up someone else’s credit file? Yes, you can, but you have to have their permission and their personal information to be able to pull the correct report. This is common in situations where an agency or individual is helping another person repair their credit or address inaccuracies after identity theft.
Should you notify credit bureaus of a death? Yes, you should notify the three major credit bureaus as soon as possible after a death to ensure that the account is marked as deceased and no one else can open credit in the person’s name.
Obtaining the credit report of the dead
One of the most common situations where you will need to obtain someone else’s credit report is if a loved one dies and you are the financial power of attorney and/or executor of the estate. Here are the steps you need to take to obtain your loved one’s credit report after they’ve died and how to protect their legacy.
1. Collect all the paperwork
It’s a lot easier to begin the process of obtaining a credit report if you already have the paperwork needed. Each of the three different credit bureaus may have different requirements to be able to report someone dead and obtain their report, so you may want to call and find out what documents are required beforehand. The most commonly requested are:
A copy of the durable financial power of attorney, if applicable
Proof that you have been named executor of the estate
Testamentary letters from the probate court
An official copy of the death certificate
It’s a good idea to get at least one copy of these documents for each of the three bureaus, but you’ll also probably want a copy for yourself and another backup just in case.
2. File the will if necessary
Before you can start the process of obtaining the credit report, you’ll need to file the will with the probate court. To do this, you’ll need a certified copy of the death certificate, which can be obtained from your local health department for a small fee. If there is no will or named executor of the estate, you may need to file with the courts to be named as executor.
3. Submit a death certificate and other documents to the credit agencies
Once you have all of your documents gathered together, you’re ready to start submitting the paperwork to the credit bureaus. Remember that you’ll need to report the death and ask for the report from all three major bureaus: Experian, EXPGY, +2.72% TransUnion TRU, +1.66% and Equifax. EFX, +1.13% Along with the death certificate, power of attorney and testamentary letters, you’ll also need to include a cover letter explaining that the person has passed and that you need to obtain the reports to put their affairs in order. Your letter should also include:
The deceased’s name
Last used mailing address
Social Security number
You may also need to send along a check or pay via phone or online to obtain the report, depending on the bureau’s policies and how recently the credit report was last obtained.
4. Review the credit report
Go through the credit report thoroughly checking for any inaccuracies—name and address misspellings are common—and make note of any open accounts that need to be paid with the estate or notified of the death. It’s a common misconception that all debts are automatically cleared when a person dies, but this isn’t the case, so it’s important to know what will still need to be taken care of. Make sure to be on the lookout for anything unusual–it could be a sign of suspicious activity.
5. Update any creditors and the Social Security Administration
The last step is to update the credit bureaus, any outstanding creditors and the Social Security Administration of the death. You may be asking, “What happens to your credit report when you die?” Until the credit bureaus are notified that a death has occurred, nothing happens to the credit report. Once the proper documentation has been submitted and the request made, the bureaus will mark the account as deceased.
This means that no further credit will be extended in the person’s name and no additional accounts can be opened up, which helps protect against identity theft and credit card fraud. The death certificate should be all that’s needed to complete this step.
Let’s face it – you’re going to die at some point. And if you care about your money and your family, it will save a lot of grief if you create a funeral plan before the grieving starts. But according to a 2017 report by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), only 21% of Americans discuss details about their funeral with loved ones.
Sure, when you’re gone, you’re gone, so it may not seem necessary to create a funeral plan. But it is – mostly because if you don’t, your loved ones will be making plans upon your passing while simultaneously mourning your loss. Do you really want them coping with decisions about casket types and music selections while their hearts are breaking?
Of course you don’t. Here are seven tips to help you prepare for this difficult but inevitable time.
1. Cremation or burial?
Ashes to ashes or dust to dust … do you want to be cremated or buried?
Cremation has been growing in popularity over the years. In fact, for the last four years, cremations have outpaced burials, and by 2040, they’re expected to lead burials 78.7% to 15.7%, according to a 2019 survey by the National Funeral Directors Association. The advantage of cremation is that it’s much cheaper, and you can distribute the remains wherever you please.
If you opt for a traditional burial, your costs can be high. When you price it, factor in the following fees: funeral planning, permits, death certificates, preparing the body, coordinating with the cemetery, embalming, a casket, obituary, etc. You’ll also need to purchase a burial site. After all, you don’t want to force your family to find one when they should be focusing on the service.
The median cost in 2017 for a funeral with all the trimmings was $8,755. That doesn’t include lots of stuff, though, like a grave marker and other miscellaneous expenses that always seem to pop up. The median cost for a cremation in 2017 was $6,260 if done by a funeral home. However, you can save tons of money by going for direct cremation (no service) – only about $1,100, according to the Cremation Research Council.
By choosing beforehand how you want to spend eternity, you’ll save your family from having to make this critical decision – and potentially save lots of money as well.
2. Decide how to pay
If you make your wishes known beforehand, you can set aside the funds in advance or prepay (see below). Otherwise, the costs of the funeral will fall directly onto your family, and they may not be prepared.
The funeral happens within days of your death, and your family may not have access to funds they’re going to inherit. And not everyone can come up with $8,000 or more within a few days or have that much available on a credit card.
3. Consider a prepaid plan
If you’re thinking of prepaying for a funeral, the general consensus is to never do this. And there are certainly many valid reasons for this advice: It’s expensive, you’re not earning interest on your money, the funeral home may go out of business, you may decide to relocate or change your mind, etc.
But if it will give you peace of mind, why not? If you have a funeral plan in advance, your family will know who to call when the inevitable occurs, and most of the significant choices will have been made – because you’ve already planned and paid for everything. It’s not always about dollars and cents.
If you decide to purchase a prepaid plan, shop around and find a funeral home that appeals to you. At the very least, you’ll learn about what choices need to be made and how much the costs will be, so even if you decide to self-fund or buy some type of small insurance policy that will cover your funeral expenses, you’ll have the info at your fingertips while you still have fingertips that function.
4. Create your funeral service
This will definitely be more fun (and only possible) for you to do when you’re alive – because when you’re gone, the choices won’t be yours. If you follow the steps above, your family will already know a lot of the other details that funerals entail. Now you can decide whether you want a large service in the funeral home or a small service by the graveside and a memorial service later on.
You can choose readings by your favorite poets and writers and the kind of music you’d like played. Jot down some thoughts or prerecord a tape that can be played at the service. It may bring people to tears to hear your voice, but it can also be deeply meaningful for them to hear your words and thoughts once you’re gone.
5. Write your obituary
Do you want to control how the world views your life when you’re gone? Then write your own obituary. It will be the final literary document of your life – but only if you can control what it says. This can be sent as a press release to your local newspaper, trade journals in your professional industry or alma mater.
Talk about your life’s challenges and how you overcame them. Do you have funny anecdotes or stories that define your sense of humor? Write them down. Dying is somber, and your capacity to make others laugh will be showcased as a memory of your personality.
Write about your history, your parents, your gratitude for the wonderful life you’ve lived, and the people who shared it with you. Include accomplishments and unforgettable moments, as well as lessons you learned that can be passed on to future generations. This exercise may seem sad, but the truth is that it will give you the opportunity to review your life and bring to the forefront all your special memories. It will also give you a deeper appreciation for the life you’ve been living.
6. Attend a ‘Death Cafe’
All of the above discussion may sound a bit morbid, but it shouldn’t. Death is a reality that everyone faces, and there’s no reason it should be a taboo subject. Imagine a place where people can gather and discuss end-of-life issues in a comfortable environment that takes the stigma away from dying. Welcome to the Death Cafe.
Created in 2004 by Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz, Death Cafes are nonprofit events organized across the globe for people to gather around tea, coffee and treats to discuss the reality and challenges of dying. Attending one gives you and/or your family the opportunity to have an objective and open conversation regarding feelings about death in a supportive and open space.
7. Discuss your plans with close family or friends
It would be a disservice to your loved ones not to talk to them about your plans for your final bow. Discuss all of the things above and what your wishes are. They can even help you fulfill many of your wishes if you’re unable to manage them by yourself.
Now you have the tools to circumvent the sadness of your death by creating an opportunity for your friends and family to celebrate your life with joy, unencumbered by the cloud of grief and funeral details that they may find overwhelming. Death is not a happy time, but by following the above steps and taking control of your funeral, you can give your family peace of mind, knowing that all is handled when that final moment comes.