Being one of a very few cremationist in North America, there are roughly 2,600 of us, I have a unique and unusual perspective of death and importantly its opposite life. I am able to see the links between them both, noticing the lessons death provides us about living. From my vantage point as a hospice volunteer and also from my experience in a funeral home I see the impact death has on families and friends that survive the loss of their loved one. I can say I have seen ‘good’ deaths and I have seen my share of ‘bad’ deaths. There are distinct differences between the two – differences that can inform our lives and if taken as ‘life-lessons’ can change the choices we make while we are living.
Let me explain. By a ‘bad death’ I mean a death where there is a lack of:
Conversations about death
Advanced care directives or living will
Funeral or celebration of life pre-planning, and
Healthy life habits.
These missing ingredients have a huge impact on end-of-life care in the health system and can result in excessive financial burdens on both the family’s resources and the budgets of health care providers. Unhealthy life choices serve to make complex medical support for the one dying. Some of these oversights complicate the decisions that must be made for celebrations of life and funeral or cremation ceremonies once death has occurred. These missed steps can confuse the legal issues of settling the deceased’s estate.
Emotions are running high when death is near at hand or has occurred. A lack of clarity around important choices needing to be made can occur at a time emotions are running high resulting in poor decisions. When making choices in an environment like this we tend to make them from a place of confusion and sometimes fear. This ‘bad death’ environment can result in family in fighting, strife with the medical system, excessive legal dealings, and struggling with funeral directors – a ‘bad death.’ All of this occupying our time and energy when it should be rightly directed to more important activities such as:
Taking good care of loved ones in a way that serves them and their quality of life
Spending quality time saying good-bye
Deepening family relationships
Celebrating a life well lived.
Here are four things I recommend if you and your family intend to experience a ‘good death’:
1) Though our culture seems set against it, have open, honest conversations about how you want your care to be managed at the end of your life.
2) Create Advanced Care Directives that will guide the medical system in its service of your predetermined treatment options.
3) Pre-planning your cremation, funeral, or celebration of life and when possible prepay it.
4) Make healthy life choices now.
With these four elements present in a family unit when death does come knocking on the door, the important decisions are in place, the funeral is planned and folks can devote all their attention to each other simply managing the plans already agreed to. This type of preparation results in what I would call a ‘good death’.