I’m always surprised when people don’t talk about what they want done after they’re gone. My mother’s parents were in their 60s when I was little, and I remember them talking about which child or grandchild would get certain of their possessions; they put masking tape on the bottoms of things with names written on them. When they passed, my mom and uncles knew who Mam-ma and Pap-pa wanted to do the service, what music and verses should be performed, and they’d owned their funeral plots for years, decades maybe.
When my dad died of cancer, he and my mom had already picked out coffins and pre-paid for the funeral home, and we all worked together on the obituary (with me sobbing, but it had to be done).
In contrast, an acquaintance of mine lost her mother, and a few weeks later, she took half a day off work to go with the rest of the family to pick out a headstone. It seemed inconceivable to me that someone who was seriously ill for a long time hadn’t picked out her own headstone. Maybe she didn’t want to face her own death, or her husband didn’t think it was fitting to talk about; I don’t know.
Recently my cousin’s common law wife passed away suddenly. That’s a little different. You don’t expect to die when you’re in your 20s. A couple of weeks later, an old friend of the family, who had been ailing for years, passed, and I commented to my mom about the way his life story was written for the funeral program and how generic his service seemed. And then I said that she and I need to sit down and write her obituary now.
It’s not an easy thing to think about, and even though my mom is in good health, I know I’ll sob my way through typing out what she wants to say. On the other hand, it would be much more difficult to think of what to say about her long and varied life, to know what she would want included, without her there to guide me. Because our family has always talked about death, accepted it as inevitable, and discussed it when the subject came up, we are able to plan for that unavoidable eventuality, in a way a lot of people cannot or will not.
For that, I am grateful.