“If you want to really know what your friends and family think of you die broke, and then see who shows up for the funeral.”
This weekend we’re remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Tradition, honor, and dignity are the hallmarks of a military funeral. If you attend a funeral with military honors, there will be a flag-draped casket. An honor guard will carry the casket to the grave site. At the end of the committal, they will lift and hold the American flag taut over the casket. A military firing party will fire three volleys with a bugler then playing “Taps.” The honor guard ceremonially folds the flag, presenting it to the family with a brief statement of gratitude and a salute. The guidelines are clear, yet that’s not the case for other funerals.
It’s estimated that the average person experiences the loss of a close family member every 15 to 20 years. Many families have no idea what the deceased would want at their funeral, so they find themselves groping in the dark, hoping they’re making the right decisions.
While some know they have a terminal illness, many will die today never considering this could be their last day on earth. It’s why we all need to be prepared for death. On an earthly level, there are some basics all of us should care for so we don’t leave a needless burden for our loved ones.
Have a will. Many don’t believe they own or have anything that’s worth anything, but when you add house, car, life insurance, etc., the average estate is worth nearly $200,000.00. If you have personal items like wedding rings, fine china, even a Bible – have specific instructions on who should receive those treasures. If you cared about a church or charity during your lifetime, you’ll want to remember them in your death. Even a few thousand dollars from an estate are a large donation.
If you have a terminal illness or are getting up in years, it’s helpful to distribute personal items that have a lot of emotion attached to them before your death. Personally, I believe those with dependent children should have life insurance. Whatever your situation, have enough at least to cover the cost of your funeral which is between $5,000 and $10,000.
Give someone power of attorney and an advance healthcare directive. One of our greatest fears is ending up incapacitated or dying in a hospital room hooked up to a bunch of tubes. Give someone you trust who has a biblical worldview of the sanctity of life, the power of attorney to make life decisions for you if you’re incapacitated. Doctors can prolong “life” for a long time. Sometimes, though, we’re merely prolonging death.
Plan your funeral. This is something most of us don’t like to think about and a conversation we dread initiating with a loved one who is dying. Yet, planning your funeral is one of the last great gifts you can give to your loved ones. It’s also your last opportunity to share the Gospel with lost family and friends. The purpose of the funeral is to honor the deceased and comfort those who have been left behind.
Since cremation is economical, more choose it. Scripture doesn’t take a position on its morality. But please don’t say something glib about being cremated. Once you die, your family wants to honor your wishes. If you’ve been glib about it, they’ll struggle with doing what you truly wanted.
If you wish to be cremated, I’d suggest there be a viewing. It gives a sense of closure. Spending huge sums on an extravagant casket or vault seems like poor stewardship. My experience has been that extreme spending is often motivated by guilt, rather than a sincere desire to honor the deceased.
When it comes to funerals, society has changed. Employers are often unwilling to allow an employee time off unless it’s for an immediate family member. Because those who care about you want to show their respect and share their condolences, I’d suggest scheduling a visitation in the late afternoon or early evening, when most can come after work. It will also usually still be light out for elderly friends who might be driving.
Be realistic about the length of the visitation. For someone who is elderly, a few hours should be sufficient. Choose who needs to be in the receiving line. It can be difficult for small children to stand for long hours. For a young person or a tragic death, you’ll probably need a longer visitation.
If the deceased is elderly, the services can easily be on a week day. You can even have a private burial for the family. With a young person or tragic death, you will want to schedule the burial on a weekend. More people want to attend the graveside in those situations.
At Grace, we have a funeral planning sheet available that you’ll find on our web site under “resources” to assist you. It walks you through the basic questions related to a funeral. Things that you’ll want to consider are favorite Bible verses, music, who to have as pallbearers, who to have speak or preach your funeral. If you’d prefer donations are made to some charity instead of flowers, you’ll want to note that too.
It’s helpful to choose who you want to speak. Sometimes it’s too difficult for a family member. A pastor or someone close to the family can read what a loved one has written. Personally, I don’t like open microphones. Well-meaning folk can lack discernment or are emotionally charged, saying things that shouldn’t be shared in a public setting. Or, it can be hurtful if there are long periods of silence if no one shares anything. It’s why it’s better to choose someone to share a thoughtful, prepared memory.
Unless Jesus comes back, we all have an appointment with Death. First, make sure you are ready to meet Jesus. Then, give your family that one last gift of a well-planned memorial service that honors your Savior and you.
Here's the link to our funeral planning sheet: www.gracechurchwi.org/funeral-information
Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address.