Last month, on a cold February morning, I attended the funeral Mass of a colleague. As I sat in a pew, listening to the priest’s homily, in which he referenced the deceased’s work for the community, my thoughts turned to another colleague – and friend – we lost a month earlier.
Andrea was a legend in funeral service in New York City. The daughter of a popular Brooklyn funeral director, she followed in his footsteps at a time when female funeral directors were rare. As her father had done before her, she hewed to tradition and ritual, and reinforced those values in her practices.
A signature of Andrea’s funerals was the shoulder carry: six pallbearers hoisting the casket atop their shoulders in a position of honor for a slow and solemn march down the center aisle of the church. It is a time-honored ritual that evokes a great deal of emotion and often brings tears to the eyes of the mourners.
Upon her death, she should have been afforded that tribute, the one she insisted upon for others. Her eulogy should have been given by one of her closest friends and she should have been honored with a beautiful send-off.
But when she died, in January, that’s not what happened.
When Is the Funeral?
Numerous comments on Facebook asked about the details of the funeral. When it was announced that there was to be no funeral, the families she loved and cherished were surprised and disappointed. And for my funeral director colleagues, it seemed unthinkable not to honor one of our own, especially one entrenched in the fabric of funeral service for so many years. It was a loss for us all.
I received a number of calls from Andrea’s client families whom I served on her behalf over the years, and especially when her health began to fail.
One woman I spoke with told me in no uncertain terms that they had once discussed their wishes together and that she was sure Andrea wanted to be taken to church. The others expressed similar sentiments.
So How Did This Happen?
How could a woman who had spent her life helping others through one of the most difficult times in their lives not have a proper send-off?
We’ll never know for sure, but it seems that her funeral intentions were not specific enough, or at least not clearly understood. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence.
I believe that one’s final wishes about their funeral should be sacrosanct. This situation underscores the importance of specifying and entrusting your final wishes to a reliable family member, friend, or a funeral director, who will carry them out. Here are several ways you can do that.
Ensure Your Wishes Are Followed
- Let family and close friends know what your last wishes are. Be specific. Do you want a burial, cremation, or entombment? A religious service? A visitation at the funeral home? Open or closed casket?
- Put it in writing, but not in your will. That is a document often read after the funeral has taken place.
- Plan your funeral in advance. A pre-arranged funeral puts your directives in writing.
- Periodically review and update your preplanned funeral if your wishes change.
- Be careful about making such off-hand remarks as “I don’t care what they do with me after I die” if you do care.
- Make an irrevocable pre-arrangement if you think your survivors won’t honor your wishes.
- Execute a form called “Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains,” which specifies someone you trust to oversee the arrangements. This appointment takes priority to all other claims to make your arrangements.
- Consult with an attorney about any additional legal documents, beyond the pre-need agreement, necessary to prevent any changes.
The National Funeral Directors Association’s educational initiative “Have the Talk of a Lifetime®” was founded by the Funeral and Memorial Informational Council and encourages people “to share stories about life, the things that matter most and how they want to be remembered” with family members before they need the services of a funeral director. To help facilitate the conversation, FAMIC offers a downloadable workbook as a resource.
Many believe that when somebody dies a family member or friend will automatically know what kind of funeral the deceased would want. Turns out, that’s not always the case. As a funeral director, I’ve seen firsthand how not having “the talk” can lead to conflict and heartache at an already difficult time.
If you have never discussed your end-of-life wishes with your loved ones, I encourage you to have that conversation sooner rather than later. It will bring you peace of mind knowing that your loved ones will honor your wishes when the time comes.
Originally published @https://sixtyandme.com/funeral-or-no-funeral/ on March 6, 2023