Saturday, February 07, 2009

Death, Funerals, and the Practical

Over the past several months we've lost four male family members or friends to death. Two my father's age and two Rob's age. At moments the grief has been overwhelming. Partly because I miss them terribly, partly because of regrets of missed opportunities, and partly, I am afraid to admit, because I know the day may come when I have to bury my own father or my own husband.

In a moment of utter selfishness I told Rob, "I want to die before you. I don't want to go through this. I don't want to go through life without you."

The reality is that we never know who will be called when. Sometimes we have to move beyond grief, beyond denial, beyond politeness, and get practical. This morning, the morning after the overly emotional funeral of a favorite uncle, I am thinking about the practical.

I am the executor of my parents' will. Dad and I have already talked this weekend a little bit about his life insurance and bank accounts. Today I will have him show me exactly where he keeps all his paperwork. Perhaps, if I can contain my emotions, we'll talk about his and Mom's desires for funeral and burial arrangements.

It's all so very uncomfortable, yet should the day arise when those arrangements need to be made the family will find great comfort in knowing that we are doing our parents' will. And we will not have the added grief of searching and digging for insurance papers and financial accounts.

Perhaps it is the mathematician in me, but I feel the need to be oh so very practical at this moment. And that goes beyond my parents and to my own immediate family.

When one of our very best friends passed away just two and a half months ago his family had no idea if there was life insurance or not. They are still searching through his records. The house has been put on the market but, the market being what it is, there is a good chance the house will go into foreclosure.

Rob is a finance guy. That is his profession. As such he takes care of the finances at home too. Until our friend's death I wasn't quite sure where Rob filed all the important papers. Now I do. But after all that has happened over the past week, I believe that I will have Rob do one more thing for me. I've asked him to create a spreadsheet with all of the accounts, policies, passwords, and what have you. I will put it in a safe deposit box or other secured place so that I am prepared in the unlikely event that I should ever need such information.

One thing that brings me peace is that we have life insurance through the Knights of Columbus. Whether I am the first to go or it is Rob, the Knights will take good care of our family. They are wonderful about coming in and helping families after a death with the necessary paperwork. Who, in their grief, wants to think about paperwork? Yet, it cannot be avoided. It must be done. We could probably find life insurance cheaper elsewhere but I get a lot of comfort knowing that our insurance payments go to a charitable, pro-life organization as well as having seen the tenderness and kindness the Knights have extended to family and friends when the death of a spouse shattered their world.

I share all this with you because you need to think about these things too. If you have not already, get with your spouse or your parents and make sure that you know how you can most easily handle arrangements and finances in a worst case scenario. It will be uncomfortable, I promise. But you need to do it. Today.


Anonymous said...

In the military it is called a Family Readiness Folder. It contains our wills ect., but also the phone numbers of who to call. If something happens to my husband, the CACO officer will come to the house notify me and if I am incapacitated, he will look for the Family Readiness File. There are the numbers to my pastor, nieghbors, and immediate family across the country. The first number is my Fater-in-laws's pastor. I am not having someone call him with the news, rather they will notify the pastor and he will tell Tom's Dad. It may seem like too many details to handle, but I have seen families in the mist of death immobilized by the grief,doing this now will save your loved ones a great deal of pain. There are recources out there available to help you prepare. Just please prepare. Chrissy

Maureen said...


Do you know how those resources can be easily accessed? Maybe forms that can found online?

Anonymous said...

Your question was hardly an easy one.

The first step is to see your religious leader. Traditions differ from religion to religion. We all think we know these well, but I have actually seen a funeral postponed a day because the Pastor was unable to fulfill the families wishes because they went against the churches teachings. Make an appointment to sit down with your Priest or Pastor and talk. Take a list of questions and make sure you can be buried where you want, how you want, by who you want.

Next take care of the legal aspects. If they are military or retired they should find a near by base. It will save them hundreds of dollars. We each have our own wills, living wills and powers of Attorney. There are legal forms required by the state of California to release Deanna into the custody of a friend (in the case I am incapacitated while Tom is deployed or something happens to both of us at the same time) until the family in Missouri can get here. Without this paper she would, by state law be sent to foster care and the family would have to petition to get her.

If they are not military, they can head to your favorite spot, the library. See what is on the shelves. I hit the internet and went to, typed in "family legal planner" and got 50 different books. I googled "free Catholic legal funeral planning" and found all kinds of sites. Just by changing "planning" to "planner" I got a whole new assortment.

If you have a law school in the area check to see if they have a free clinic.

I know this all seems overpowering, but you are great at sorting out the details. If you blog your journey through the mess you could help a lot of people. This could even be your next book. Blessings Chrissy

Simple Faith and Life said...

Just tonight I was talking with an old friend whose brother died several years ago. He had a living trust but had failed to sign it, so they have been having quite a time settling the estate.

Also, since you have a wide readership, there may be some readers who have (or are) step-children, so I would like to share something about that. If the natural parent dies first, then the property of the step-parent does not necessarily go to the step-children - unless there is a will stating this. When my step-father died a couple years after my mom had died, my sister and I could find no will. Consequently, the money from the sale of the house went to his nieces and nephews with whom he had no contact for years. The law doesn't really care who was most "in touch" or not...or where the money originally came from (in this case, alimony from my dad, inheritance from my grandparents, and years of work on the part of my mom). Without a will, it goes to next of kin - and nieces and nephews come before step-children. Just a "heads up" for anyone in this position.

Thanks, Maureen AND Chrissy, for reminding us of the importance of preparing for that which we hope won't happen; but even when it doesn't, being prepared can bring us peace of mind.

Margaret Mary

Unknown said...


I'm sorry you've lost so many people recently.

In addition to what you've mentioned, there is another very, very important item to attend to while the adults are still healthy. This is the "Health Care Directive". Presumably those who are close to us would want this written in a manner consistent with Church teachings. How awful it would be to deal with a close relative or friend who's dying & see them taken off life support prematurely or any other such problem--especially because this can be avoided with a Health Care Directive.

So. . .perhaps one more thing to do.


Renee said...

When my mom died in 1997 at a young age (54). We knew where nothing was esp since she had moved to an apartment at which we had not yet visited. We were never able to find a will but thankfully she had a friend listed on her bank account and he was willing to give us the entire amount (even though legally it was now all his) in order to pay for expenses. I did know that she wanted no funeral and no burial. Her sister was very bothered by this so we compromised with a memorial service at the funeral home.
We don't know anything about my dh's father but he has a wife to take care of that when the time comes.

Renee said...

Laws concerning estates and inheritance vary widely from state-to-state. In NJ, step grandchildren are considered heirs.

Unknown said...

You are so right on this. My father died when I was in college. He died on a Thursday evening and on Friday morning, because my father did not have a will, my mother had to go to the bank and close their joint account. Otherwise the funds would have been tied up until the estate was settled. It was one of the worse things my mother could have had to do. Luckily someone gave her the advice, however, to do it.

When we are grieving, we don't, generally, think practically. If we plan, we don't have to.