Why it’s important to think about the end of life and plan ahead.
Life and death are intricately connected — inseparable, you might say. Yet, for many of us, talking about death and dying with loved ones isn’t easy.
There are many reasons for this reluctance to talk about our wishes and preferences for the end of life. When we discuss final wishes or funeral plans with our parents, siblings, or spouses, we are forced to confront their mortality — and our own.
And death is not something we as a society are accustomed to facing. For generations in the United States, Canada, the UK, and elsewhere, we have done our best to keep death separate from the rest of life. In the 20th century, as death moved out of family homes and into hospitals and funeral parlors, so too did conversation about death. The less we encountered death directly, the more taboo it became.
But in the 21st century there has been a movement to reunite life and death, so to speak. Around the globe, individuals and groups — from doctors to people with terminal illnesses to funeral directors — are helping to kindle meaningful conversation about all stages of life, including the end.
Take the Time to Talk is an annual campaign from the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand. The goal is simple: get people to talk with loved ones about what’s important to them. Though it’s aimed at New Zealanders, FDANZ provides a guide to meaningful conversations that families in any part of the world might find helpful.
You don’t need to travel to New Zealand to find funeral directors who want to help families start conversations about life and death. In the United States, the National Funeral Directors Association offers similar materials to help families have the talk of a lifetime.
One great way to get your children thinking about their family’s history is to interview older family members about their own holiday traditions when they were young. And there’s no better time than when everyone’s together for the holidays.
Doctors, scientists and lawmakers are all important to a healthy society, but just as invaluable are the storytellers. Without storytellers to keep the past alive, we’d be unable to learn from history. And storytelling is just as important to our families as it is to society at large; a funny tale might seem silly the first time it’s told, but as years pass, silly stories become a way of passing precious memories through the generations.
In January 2015, Legacy CMO Kim Evenson embarked on a year-long project to understand the meaning of life. Everywhere she went, she asked complete strangers to share their answers to three questions: “What advice would you give to a baby? What advice would you give reflecting on things you would change? What do you think the meaning of life is?” She found that people are surprisingly generous with their wisdom — and their words are often inspiring.
Five years ago, British Web designer Jon Underwood hosted the first Death Cafe in East London. Since then, organizers in 27 countries have hosted about 1,500 Death Cafes, using guidelines Underwood established. These gatherings invite strangers to come together in homes, coffee shops, bars, and other public gathering spaces and discuss the inevitable. Doing so, he believes, can mitigate the fear of death and encourage people to focus the time they have on what matters most to them.
“Give sorrow words,” Shakespeare admonished. But how do your begin to think about planning for a ritual if you have no religious tradition or perhaps even a distaste for ritual in general? If you are alienated from your faith tradition, how do you draw what is still meaningful from it and include it in a personalized ritual? How do you create an appropriate context to give sorrow words?
Imagine you’re on your deathbed and you’re granted an impossible gift — the chance to attend your own funeral. If you accept, what would you do at the service? Would you tell grieving friends and family members how much you loved them? Would you try to comfort them? Soon, you might be able to do both thanks to Carl Minardo, founder of Florida-based AIM Holographics, who has spent years making 3-D funeral farewells a reality.
We all know having a will is important. So why do so many people still not have one? Could it be because wills are pretty complex? Indeed, there are many different types of wills, often filled with legal jargon that seems designed to confuse. But it’s vitally important to understand what should go into your will for the sake of your loved ones—and in particular, for your executor (the person you designate to carry out your final wishes).