End of Life Planning Must Balance High Costs with Need for Closure
Here at AgingOptions, as you know if you read our blog articles or hear us on the radio, our primary focus is on what we call LifePlanning – helping you prepare a well thought-out, comprehensive plan for all aspects of your retirement. You’ve also heard us say many times that “aging is a family affair,” which simply means that as you grow older you’re seldom aging by yourself. Hopefully you have loved ones and close friends making the journey with you.
But there’s one aspect of LifePlanning we’ve seldom discussed, and that’s what you might call “End of Life Planning.” Since dying is an inevitable part of living, how will you take care of the costs of your death – both the financial costs and, equally important, the emotional costs? In today’s modern culture we find too often that even people who plan ahead for the financial costs of their passing do a poor job of preparing to help their loved ones bear the emotional burden after they die. The high cost in dollars and cents of dying in America needs to be considered, but so does the family’s need for emotional closure.
A recent article has brought this issue to our minds. In the New York Times just a few days ago, we found this fascinating and timely article describing a new set of guidelines just put forth by the Vatican concerning the question of how Catholics should approach the issue of cremation. Statistics show that more than 40% of U.S. families now choose cremation instead of burial, so in the face of what Catholic officials have called an “unstoppable increase” in the practice, the Church felt the need to clarify what’s acceptable and what’s not in regards to Catholic doctrine.
While the Catholic Church prohibited cremation for many centuries, the practice began to be accepted in the early 1960’s. But it’s clear from the New York Times article that burial is still preferred by the Church hierarchy, and for what we think is an interesting reason. “Beyond respect for the deceased,” says the Times, “the [Church] document notes that burial in a cemetery ‘encourages family members and the whole Christian community to pray for and remember the dead.’” In other words, families need to have a place where they can go and remember Mom or Dad, Grandma or Grandpa. Too many families in this day and age, we believe, lack this kind of place of remembrance.
When a parent or loved one dies it is important that the children have a ceremony to mark the occasion, along with a place to inter the remains, whether cremated or not. This allows a sense of finality and emotional closure. Many of you remember simpler days when families stood at the graveside and everyone who went to the ceremony took a bit of dirt and put it in the grave. That may be an emotionally hard thing to do, but once again it brings a sense of finality. Today, too often we have “sanitized” the process of dying just as we sanitize the process of birth. To make matters worse, we have heard countless stories (some in our own families) of parents who leave no instructions whatsoever for their children describing what they would like to have done with their remains after they die, leaving the kids to make this difficult decision for themselves. The result is often procrastination, not closure. (We know one man whose mother’s ashes rode around in the trunk of his car for 18 months!) Wouldn’t it be better for us to tell our kids exactly what our wishes are? This should be part of your LifePlan.
Of course, another part of LifePlanning also includes providing the resources for our children to carry out our wishes by making arrangements to prepay the costs and give explicit directions. If you’ll contact our office we can assist you in making these kinds of preparations and stipulations. And by the way, for a real eye-opener when it comes to projected expenses, we call your attention to this article describing in general terms how much a funeral costs. We found it in a very recent issue of the online news site The Huffington Post. Bottom line? The average cost of a funeral today is just a bit over $11,000. But there are many ways to save, so we think you’ll find this article most helpful.
Remember, your LifePlan is not designed primarily to help you plan for dying. Its real purpose is to help you plan for living – enjoying your retirement years to the max while taking all aspects of aging into account. Where do you want to live? How will you protect your financial assets? What legal safeguards will you need? What medical insurance is right for you? How do you involve your family in your retirement decisions? Your LifePlan answers all these questions and more. Get the facts, and get started in the LifePlanning process, by attending a free, no-obligation LifePlanning Seminar in a location near you. For dates, times, location and online registration simply click on the Upcoming Events tab – or contact our office. Let us be your guide as you make your plans, not just for the end of your life, but for the rest of your life, to live with dignity, security, joy and purpose.
(originally reported at www.nytimes.com and www.huffingtonpost.com)