Last year I had a difficult conversation with my mother. I sat her down and then asked her to talk to me about her wishes in case of a health crisis, and then asked her to help plan her own funeral. It was difficult for me but it was more difficult for her. I did not like to think that at age 91 there is an inevitability of something happening in a few years or months. Hard for her because as individuals we DO NOT want to think about our death. We want to believe we will live forever. (As our eldest son would add “so far, so good!”) But death is as much a part of our life journey as birth. And to know and accept our mortality can actually improve our being able to live in the here and now.
There were practical advantages to this conversation as well. As I told my mother, she knew what kind of service she would want in order for us to celebrate her life, what specific music was important to her, what readings inspired her, and which of the clergy she knows that she might like to have reflect on her life. (It won’t be me – we both understand I must be there as her son not as her priest.) It was not an easy conversation but it was a good one. Good for her as well as for my sister and for me.
And yes, before you ask, I have written up plans for my own funeral – not that I expect it any time soon. But I can’t ask others to do that which I am not willing to do. Besides, it is a good exercise for us to take on. It helps us confront the reality that someday my life as I know it will end. I commend that to you as well. It is a gift we can give to our families, and to ourselves.
By becoming comfortable with the reality of my own mortality I am enabled to ask other important questions – such as what is of value to me that I want to leave others? Not just possessions or money but values, examples, modeled behavior, etc. If I want to leave that as a legacy I have to plan for it now. I need to live it out in real ways.
And the Episcopal prayer book (on pg. 445) reminds us that we need also to plan for the disposal of our worldly goods “not neglecting if they are able, to leave bequests for religious and charitable uses.” We as people have to exercise accountability for the gift of life we have been given and for what we have done with it.
It is a difficult conversation to have even if we only have it with ourself – but it one of the most important.
Excellent piece, Father. Thanks!