When Margaret Jenkins' mother died unexpectedly of a massive stroke in 2005, Jenkins was overwhelmed with grief. She drove to the funeral home with her stepfather to make arrangements. Turns out, Jenkins' mother had pre-planned her own funeral.
"It was the greatest gift she could leave to me," said Jenkins, a Wilmington resident. "It was remarkable that she had done that. It was such a huge relief. To have to make funeral plans during such an emotional time is just pouring salt into an open wound. Everything was taken care of."
A conversation about pre-planning a funeral might be an uneasy discussion to have with your loved ones, but it's probably one that will save your family much heartache in the end, according to Frank C. Mayer III, funeral director and co-owner of Spicer Mulliken funeral homes.
"Pre-planning a funeral can reduce a lot of stress and anxiety," said Mayer. For those who don't pre-plan, "the added stress and emotions make it more difficult to make decisions" after a loved one is gone, Mayer noted.
Pre-planning also allows the person to give their own input about their service, and has some financial benefit as well. For those on Medicaid, "it allows you to prepay and it doesn't count against your assets when they qualify you," said Mayer.
For Kellie DiMaio of Newark, Del., the decision to pre-plan her grandmother's funeral was an easy one. She lost her brother in 1997, her mother in 2001, and her grandfather last June. None of those funerals were pre-planned.
"When you're planning without notice, it's difficult to get through it," said DiMaio. "You don't always make the best decisions under the gun with such high emotions."
With pre-planning her grandmother's funeral, "I could take my time, and think about things, and give her the type of service she would want," said DiMaio. "It gave me peace of mind to know I'm going to be able to give her the proper goodbye for her and for our family."
DiMaio's grandmother said she doesn't want to be cremated.
"I don't want to go against her wishes, and now I know what they are. You also don't have as much of a financial burden when you pre-plan. We set up a trust in her name strictly to pay for funeral expenses and that doesn't affect her Medicaid," added DiMaio.
In addition the financial benefit of pre-planning, DiMaio said that she wasn't "distraught or grasping at straws" when she made decisions about her grandmother's funeral. When her mother and grandfather died, she took on the burden of planning.
"It was really sad. But when things are pre-planned and set in stone, you won't have to worry about family drama or who wants what in such an emotional time of need," DiMaio said.
Steps to funeral planning
So, what exactly is involved in the pre-planning process?
"It can be as involved as the family wants to make it - very detailed, or just the framework of basic wishes," said Mayer.
During the process, people can choose how many days of visitation there will be; where the service will be held (church or fire hall, for example); will be there a reception afterwards; the type of casket; the flowers; whether the person will be buried or cremated, or have a green burial option (Interment of the bodies is done in a bio-degradable casket, shroud, or a favorite blanket.) A cemetery plot can also be purchased ahead of time, guaranteeing a lower price, than if it's not pre-paid, said Mayer.
In a 2010 survey conducted by the National Funeral Directors Association, 66 percent of adults would choose to arrange their own funeral service, but only 25 percent have already made them, according to Jessica Koth of the NFDA, based in Wisconsin.
The survey notes that people choose to make funeral arrangements ahead of time for two primary reasons: So that their survivors wouldn't have to pay for them or worry about them; and to guarantee the individual's final wishes are taken care of exactly how they want them.
Starting the conversation about pre-planning a funeral is not always easy.
"It's a hard topic to bring up," said Mayer, "so we suggest that a loved one start asking questions such as 'Where would you want to be buried, what can kind of music would you like, or where would you want it to be held?"
Mayer says that as common as death is, 'talking about it is still a taboo thing in society, and having to think about your own mortality is just a difficult subject for most people. But if you have the opportunity to plan things ahead of time, you're commemorating a life that's been lived."
For DiMaio, the hardest part was "knowing that you're making arrangements because this person isn't going to be here anymore. It's still very emotional, it's just not as drastic as when it's immediate and unplanned."
For Jenkins, it was a 'huge burdened lessened' when her mother pre-planned her own funeral.
"Emotionally and financially, it saves you stress and money," she said. "It's the emotional savings that's the greater thing."
Karen James, Wilmington (Del.) News Journal