4 Lessons I've Learned From End of Life Experiences

by Kyle Kendall, LFD

There are a few things that I’ve observed over the years as a funeral director, and here are a few things I think would be helpful for the readers to think about. Planning is one of the first things that I think about that I took for granted before I came into this profession. I was surprised at how many people had no idea what the wishes of their loved one were. Even when someone gets placed into hospice care, the question never came up as to what their loved one’s wishes were after they had passed. I know it can be uncomfortable to ask these questions, but it’s much easier doing it before someone has an unforeseen accident or becomes terminally ill. Best case scenario: the person pre-plans with a funeral home that they feel comfortable with. But at the very least, I think a spouse or kids should have a conversation with each other about what they wish happens when they pass. Traditional with a viewing, cremation, or both? Where would you like to be buried? Would you like to have your cremains scattered somewhere? It’s much easier answering these questions when the person is still alive than making the decisions on what you think they would have wanted.

This brings me to another uncomfortable situation: not having a will in place. If you’ve ever had to move in recent memory, you don’t realize how much stuff you have until you start packing things up in boxes and realize the moving van you rented might need to be upgraded into a small semi. I would suggest sitting down with a lawyer and going through everything and determining what you want done with these items. Who gets what? Usually each family has that one son or daughter that feels entitled to certain things, and it can really tear a family apart. Take the guesswork out of it, and designate a plan for how to allocate those assets after you pass.

One thing that’s surprised me when I first started meeting with families is their attitude when they walk in the door. I remember hearing from someone that “attitude is the one thing we have control over.” No, making funeral arrangements isn’t something that we want to do, but the attitude we have going into it can make a sad situation easier or worse. Most people come in with a good attitude, but the dynamics of families are getting very complicated, lots of different factions with multiple marriages, kids, stepchildren, not everyone gets along with each other. My advice is to do your best to get along with each other for the extent that the funeral takes place. You can go back to hating each other afterwards, but what’s important is to not make the funeral about you; it’s about the deceased. You should honor them, and not let past wrongdoings of certain family members get in the way of that.

Lastly, I’d like to mention the importance that friends can have on people who experience a loss. When my grandmother passed, I was amazed at how many people dropped off casseroles, cookies, and meals in general. I thought what a neat cultural tradition. So always be thinking of what you can do to help this person or family out, and something as simple as that can go a long way. Also, it’s easy for us on the outside after  one month, two months down the road to have moved on from the funeral . The spouse that has been married to that person for the past 60 years most likely hasn’t. It took me a while to realize that because I go from one funeral to the next, so I have to move on, but don’t be surprised if they’re still experiencing grief even though we’re not.