The Final Gift

In my role as a spiritual director and celebrant I work with people whose loved ones have died.  One woman lost her husband of many years and was journeying her way through the grief for months, but still felt very stuck.  She felt stuck because she didn’t know what to do with the urn containing her husband’s cremated remains. Although he had a terminal illness and they both knew he was going to die, they hadn’t finalized his funeral plans and final resting place.  She was living with the urn in her house, unsure what to do with it. She was stuck in the logistics of the process and was therefore stuck in her grief.


In the book, The Good Funeral: Death, Grief, and the Community of Care, Thomas G. Long, a preacher and professor writes, “What I discovered is that the basic human need when somebody dies is that person must be taken – and fairly quickly – from the living, from where they died, to the place of disposition.  No human society has allowed the dead to remain among the living. No human society has ever done this in a perfunctory way, as if they were taking out the trash.” A good funeral involves taking a person’s body from its place of death to its final resting place.  So the question of whether the body will be at the funeral isn’t relevant, the question is will you be at the funeral.

For the woman I described above, the funeral for her husband was not over so she could not move forward in her grief journey.  She was stuck. I’m certain her husband wanted her to heal and not be hindered by the process. Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t encourage conversations about one’s own death.  We are known as a death avoidant culture. Europeans even say, “Americans think death is optional.” By avoiding these conversations we are denying ourselves and our loved ones a gift.  But how could that be?

I’ve found three reasons why preplanning your funeral is a gift.  First, it gives you peace of mind. Knowing your loved ones won’t have to deal with a lot of details on top of their grief can be reassuring for you.  Second, it gives your loved ones peace of mind. Rather than being stuck in their uncertainty, your loved ones can relax knowing they’re fulfilling your wishes.  And third, it helps you live more fully now and find what really matters to you. In the book, Music of Silence: a Sacred Journey through the Hours of the Day, David Steindl-Rast and Sharon Lebell describe how monks are taught to always hold death before their eyes.  They do this not in a morbid way, but in a ”seize the day” way – realizing every day is an opportunity to live fully in the present.

The funeral directors at Koch Funeral Home in State College and John B. Brown Funeral Home in Huntingdon will guide you through the preplanning process step-by-step.  You can discuss how you want your body cared for, what kind of service you like and where you want to be laid to rest. Deciding these and other choices in advance are the final gift you give yourself and your loved ones.   

This article originally appeared in The Centre County Gazette