The question from my parents caught me completely off-guard. I was in my 20s at the time—healthy, focused on my career, newly married, and looking forward to eventually having children. Dying and death were the furthest things from my mind.
I knew the question came from a place of love and compassion. As my parents were buying their own burial plots at what they considered to be the most beautiful cemetery in the Twin Cities, they wondered if I was interested in having one there too, knowing there was no chance I could have afforded one myself back then.
I ultimately declined the offer, but the realization sunk in that it was never too early to start thinking about and preparing for end of life. So some years later, after my husband and I got married, we decided to take health care directive and funeral planning booklets when our church’s parish nurse handed them out.
And we spent one night at our dining room table, thinking about and recording what the end might look like for each of us, whenever that time came.
- Thinking about the end helps you know yourself better: I had never really stopped to think about the specific things that make life worth living and which medical interventions I might want or not want to prolong my life. Somehow, pondering these things made me feel less uncomfortable about death and dying.
- End-of-life planning enables you to know your loved ones in a new way: I learned that night that my husband wants some rather unusual readings at his funeral (think ancient Greek historians’ reflections on happiness, toil, and strife)—ones I never in a million years would have selected for him. While I’m glad to know I can honor his wishes, we now joke about how there might need to be some type of disclaimer or explanation in response to the perplexed looks people would surely have during the readings.
- Your wishes change over time: It was four years ago when we sat down and initially recorded our wishes, and there are already some things I see that I want to change. So rather than viewing these papers as final wishes, I have come to view them as working documents that will change with me as I grow and change over time. (Speaking of which, I wonder if my husband has changed his mind about those readings he selected?!)
- Having these documents creates peace of mind: On the one hand, it’s difficult to think about the end. On the other hand, it’s freeing knowing that I don’t have to worry about my final wishes being honored and that close family already have some sense of what they are.
I’m still not ready to buy a burial plot, but I do have a sense of calm knowing that some of my affairs are in order. Have you done a health care directive and/or recorded your funeral wishes? If so, what did you learn about yourself? If not, what’s holding you back?