My mother, now 96, is in rapidly failing health. Always a model of vitality, it has been difficult for me to imagine the world without her. Yet, as she becomes increasingly frailer, my brother and I decided that it was time for us to tie up loose ends at the cemetery so that when her time came to die, all we would need to do is make a call and set a funeral date.
Twenty-five years ago, our mother told us that she had made arrangements to be buried in a double grave with our father, who had died in 1959. She said we would have no worries and that she had taken care of everything. We believed her.
However, last week, just to be certain everything was taken care of, I made an appointment with a pre-need counselor at the cemetery. It was then that I learned that other than my mother having requested in writing to be interred with my father, she had done nothing else nor paid any costs relative to her funeral and burial.
As my mother’s sight, hearing and strength diminished precipitously over the last two years, along with increasing dementia and changes in her demeanor and behavior, I began mourning the mother I once knew. I felt, nevertheless, emotionally ready to deal with her funeral and burial arrangements.
My pre-need counselor was kind and thorough and covered all the details and costs. About thirty minutes into an hour-long meeting, I stopped her and asked, “As someone who has officiated at hundreds of funerals, guided people through the mourning process, and understands the cemetery ‘business’ as well as I do, this must be for you relatively easy working with me. But what is it like for you to help people who, suddenly, in the shock and grief of a death have to do everything from scratch to prepare for the funeral and burial of their loved ones because nothing had been arranged in advance?”
“John,” she said, “It is very hard! These meetings take a long time and there is much pain and confusion. Sometimes, there is rage directed at me, and people fall apart emotionally in my office. I try and help them in every way. These meetings are often difficult and painful to get through, for them and for me.”
What is the take-away? For the sake of our spouses, children, grandchildren, siblings, and friends, I urge everyone to make arrangements for and pay for our own funerals, burial and internment now, long before it is necessary for others to do it on our behalf.
It is unfair, I believe, to leave the funeral and burial details to those we love. It is also unfair to leave them with the bill in the midst of their grief.
I understand why so many of us fail to make these arrangements. We’re afraid, and/or confronting our mortality is deeply distressing to us, especially if we have significant health problems. Some of us do not want to spend the money and we decide that our children will pay for everything after the fact out of our estates.
There is much to consider as we think about options. To assist you, please see a 45-page guide called “Preparing for Jewish Burial and Mourning” that I wrote two years ago that covers everything you will need to understand and consider in Jewish tradition and cemetery practice (http://hillsidememorial.org/jewish-lifecycle-guide/ or http://www.tioh.org/images/Worship/ClergyStudy/preparing%20for%20jewish%20burial%20and%20mourning.pdf).
This is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one.
May you and your dear ones enjoy long and healthy lives, and may you sleep well at night knowing that what you do now will relieve the people you love the most from having to do after you die.
Kol tuv – Best wishes!