There are three things that you can do now to make things easier for your family when you die. You don’t need to be sick to do them – in fact, it’s better to do these while you’re healthy and have time to think and plan. You can do them in any order. But trust me on this: taking the time to do these three things is a gift to your loved ones.
First, write your obituary. You’ve read many of them and if you haven’t, just pull up any local paper and read a bunch. Some of them are boring and just have name, birth and death dates, spouse, children. My favorite obituaries, though, tell me who the person was, what their passions were, what made their lives better. My dad read to first graders for over 20 years and you can bet that will be in his obituary. I read a wonderful one years ago about a 102-year old woman known for her pie baking – I knew who she was after reading it. Include basic information but go beyond it to tell people who you are and why you mattered. Pick a good picture for the obituary, too, preferably one that looks like you as a mature person and not the army picture if you are in your 70’s.
Second, plan your funeral or memorial service and give a copy of what you decide to your church office as well as your own files. A funeral service is conducted when the body is present; when it’s not, as in the case with cremation, there is a memorial service. Different religious faiths and denominations have structure or liturgy for their services, but it’s up to the family – to you – to select scriptures or readings to be included, and to decide on music that’s significant.
This doesn’t have to be hard! There are websites with ideas, such as 30 Top Funeral Bible Verses. Hymnals and prayer books also have suggested music and scripture that’s appropriate. Do you want to have a choir sing, or maybe someone sing a solo? Write it down! Nothing is written in stone and it can be changed as you change and want something else. Also remember that a memorial service is for the living, so if your family decides on something else, that’s okay, too. But at least they will know what you want, and that will help enormously.
Finally, plan what happens to your body. Do you want to be cremated or buried? Do you know where the body/ashes will be interred? Sit down with a funeral home (or several, to decide on one), and make plans. Even better, prepay it to lock in prices (they call this “pre-need arrangements”). Your family won’t have to do anything when you die except call the funeral home and meet to review what has already been arranged.
I work in a church office and deal with memorial services and grieving families all the time. I’ve seen what a difference it is for them when these three things have been planned in advance. Make thoughtful decisions about what you want, write them down, and make sure your family and your religious home have copies. It might be the best gift you can leave them.