A Peaceful Path

Funeral directors are often on the front lines with families going through dramatic changes. Given the increased complexity of our lives and families, and religious affiliations that tend to be more in flux than in previous times, the many details involved in planning a funeral are now just one of multiple needs a family will have to address. In many cases, tackling some of these issues before the need is imminent can save significant heartache and solve problems that sometimes linger for months, or even years, after a death has occurred.

For this reason, I have created "A Peaceful Path," – an online guide to help families begin the process of addressing the numerous difficult decisions that need to be made as we, and our loved ones, age. It's not overly complicated, and it has been developed over years of impartial, first hand observation of people from all walks of life dealing with crisis.

Historically, these topics, because they were considered taboo, were rarely discussed by anyone, not even doctors with their own patients, for example. However, as a local, family-owned business, we feel that participating in this conversation to a greater degree will benefit our community, as a whole.

The four basic topics that should be discussed openly and honestly with your family:

1. General Medical Care. 

As long as we are healthy enough to care for ourselves, this is rarely an issue.  However, what happens when we start to show signs of not being able to care for ourselves? Is there a plan in place that will address our basic needs? Having a solid and realistic plan that specifies the type of care you would like to receive is very important in terms of continuing quality of life for both the patient, and their family care givers.

The AARP is a great resource for caregivers, with legal, financial, and insurance information, as well as tips for maintaining the health of the caregiver. Laws differ from state to state, so make sure you are aware of applicable laws in your area.

Also, www.eldercare.gov provides an excellent search tool that can help you find care resources in your community.

At the local level, the Hope and Healing Center offers numerous seminars on caring for aging loved ones, and how to care for ourselves as caregivers and Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston is one of the jewels of our Houston community, providing thousands of hot meals directly to the homes of elderly Houstonians every day.

"Thinking Ahead," published by the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, offers a concise, easy to follow, step-by-step outline for addressing some of the most difficult aging-related decisions. Please feel free to print your own copy.

2. When Death is Near.

This step is often the most painful because people must make difficult decisions in a relatively short period of time. Modern medicine can extend a person’s life, almost indefinitely. However, you should consider for yourself or someone entrusting you to make medical decisions for them, is that always the best course of action? Will further treatment actually cause more overall harm? Will there be any quality of life left? This topic in particular has been given much attention as it also is intimately associated with the highest incurrence of medical care costs in an average person’s lifetime.

"The Conversation: A Revolutionary Plan for End of Life Care," by Angelo Volandes, is an excellent resource for all families who are ready to address this topic.

3.   The Funeral Process.

After a death has occurred, it is important to know what to do next. It is also important to know that there is rarely, if ever, any actual urgency to taking the next steps. Absorb the moment, get some sleep, eat a normal meal. These small details can have a significant impact on your overall well-being during this difficult time.

We strongly suggest that a funeral home be selected long before a death has occurred, and it is advisable to reach an understanding of what your particular needs are so that it is easier to determine which funeral service provider is right for you.

Things to consider when choosing a funeral provider:

  • Am I comfortable talking with the funeral staff? Are they attentive and caring?
  • Is the funeral home trying to provide me with what I need?
  • If I have a budget, is the funeral home respectful of that?

A "good" funeral home will help you walk this difficult path. They will provide options, give counsel and make suggestions. They will provide competent and easy to understand answers to your questions. They will lighten your burden.

And finally, for some families, planning ahead for a funeral, which includes locking in the costs of services and merchandise and paying those costs in advance, can be a great option. The National Funeral Directors Association offers a guide to pre-planning that includes links to relevant state and local regulations.

4. Moving Forward after a Loss.

After the funeral is over and the relatives have all gone home, moving forward after a loss becomes a primary focus. In order to ease this process, we frequently recommend reaching out to professionals in other areas of expertise to assist families.  For example, consider contacting an attorney if there are any questions about what to do with someone’s “stuff” after they have died.

If the sense of loss is keeping you from healing, consider contacting a grief therapist, grief support group or other outreach service.  There are numerous organizations available to help, often at little to no cost.

The grief recovery method website can help you find local or online resources, and many churches of all denominations will offer grief support. There are also numerous publications available that assist people down this difficult path, including "On Grief and Grieving," which is a follow-up to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ highly-acclaimed book, "On Death and Dying."