Preparing for Death
Lent is a time of preparing for death. The death of Jesus on the Cross is first in our minds, but what about our own deaths? We live in the midst of a culture which is in complete denial about the reality of death. Our culture tends toward a superficiality in which life is seen as important and good, but without any kind of theological or metaphysical undergirding which could provide us with the language we need to think about death in any coherent way. In the Christian tradition, death is bad, it is the consequence of sin and it comes upon us in ways that are often tragic. Yet, as Christians, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we find ultimate meaning behind both life and death. This teaches us about the sacredness of life and the human body, it teaches the faithful what our ultimate end will be - that of resurrection to eternal life. But, it also teaches us about the gravity of death, the rightness of mourning, even the rightness of treating the bodies of the departed with dignity. Remember - Jesus’ body was prepared for burial at an immense expense. His friends mourned for his death, and He mourned at the tomb of His friend Lazarus. As a parish priest, I often find that people are completely unprepared for their own deaths. They fall into this cultural trap of not taking death seriously, of thinking all of that to be very morbid and unbecoming of modern people. I have sincerely wished that they could have the perspective that I do, seeing mourning families preparing a funeral and burial without any direction or pre-planning. Very often, a husband or a wife or a mourning child is burdened with the task of sorting through wills, probate courts, bills, and property. I have seen widows whose husbands never got around to purchasing life insurance, families struggling through end-of-life decisions, and those more practical matters like finding out where their much-loved departed did their banking, which company provided their electricity, and the passwords for their computers. In Lent, it is a helpful exercise to prepare ourselves to die, not in the interior life, but in practical ways. Thus, I provide you this Thursday with a list of ten suggestions:
If you have not already, make a will. If you already have one, read it over with your heirs and executors, and if necessary, make changes. Include what your lawyer recommends as well as your desires for your personal effects.Make sure you have enough life insurance. Conventional wisdom is that you need a term life policy of 10x your annual income.Get a safe: fill it with all of the above and include vehicle titles, real estate titles, social security cards, passports, birth certificates, baptism certificates, marriage certificates, military records, family pictures, digital backups, etc. And, if you’re able, make sure there is some cash in it. Let a trusted friend or relative know how to open it. From time to time, remind them.Write up a “Legacy Letter.” Include in it bank account numbers, life insurance policy numbers, computer passwords, retirement accounts, locations of important documents, and any debts you may have, including regular bills due. Put it in the safe! And update it regularly.Make a funeral plan. Include hymns, readings, and location preferences. Share it with your priest. We keep files with this sort of thing.Make clear your desires for your remains.Write notes to your spouse and/or children. Update them yearly.If you have children, set up a trust for their education (perhaps funded by life insurance proceeds), and make it clear in your will.Set up a Durable Power of Attorney for the event that you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself. Pick someone trustworthy for this role and make your desires clear. Your priest is usually happy to serve in this way.Make backup keys of every door you unlock, whether of a vehicle or building. Put those in the safe, too.Here is a helpful Funeral Planning Form that will assist you (and subsequently your family) in making some of these decisions.