Fifteen years ago my mother died. She had been sick for about 9 months, but we weren’t prepared – in any way. I knew she was miserable on a good day, she had a DNR (do not resuscitate) and she was in and out of the hospital so many times. I was living in Wheeling with my family and traveled to Charleston, where she lived, to help out as much as I could. Our kids were very young and it was difficult to be away from my husband so much, but my mom needed me. I had been caring for my mother since I was a teen, in one way or another. I suppose that’s just my nature. Anytime one of my siblings, my husband or I would bring up getting her affairs in order, my mother would say in a sarcastic tone, “that will be your problem when I’m gone” and boy, was she right. It was our problem. We knew very little about her final wishes. More importantly, we didn’t know much about her financial affairs. So, when she died, we were busy doing the business of a funeral instead of celebrating her life. You see, my mother died alone, in a hospital bed, because we were at the funeral home making arrangements for her imminent death. That is something that never leaves you. If only we had taken a couple of hours to meet with a pre- arrangement specialist a few months before, she would have been surrounded by the people that loved her most when she died.
Thank goodness my mother and I were close and over the years we had conversations about whether or not she wanted to be cremated. My brother, sister and I all had different ideas about how her funeral service should be structured. We worked through it well, and ultimately came up with a thoughtful and meaningful service I think she would have liked. But it would have been nice if we knew for sure what scripture she wanted or if she wanted the Eucharist and which hymns she loved. Luckily, we all knew for sure that she wanted to buried next to her parents. But we had to call my aunt and uncle to find out if there was a plot next to them and if we owned it. That is a whole other story. See what I mean? There are so many elements that go into planning for what comes after your death.
Fast forward twelve years, and I have the opportunity to join Altmeyer Funeral Home as their Outreach Director in the Ohio Valley. It has been amazing how my personal experience has helped me serve others in our community. I tell people at our pre- arrangement presentations that they can give their family a gift by pre- arranging their funerals. It sounds cliché, but is it absolutely true. Having each item written down and on file with the funeral home can make everything so much easier for your loved ones. Instead of searching for their social security number or trying to remember where they were born or what their mother’s maiden name is, they can be together remembering all of the good times you had together. They can support and love each other in your memory. That is a gift. And if you are able, funding all of those choices is an even bigger gift. You would be amazed to know that it doesn’t cost as much as you might think. If you take the time to really think about what you want and make decisions that are not based on your emotions, you will have a calm and thoughtful funeral where your loved ones can support one another.
I regret to say that there isn’t much I remember about my mother’s funeral. I don’t think I really grieved her death until several months later. In a future blog post I will discuss why that is not healthy, but for now, I hope that I can give to others something I did not have – the freedom to grieve because my mother’s funeral was not pre- arranged.
Sarah Barickman is an outreach director and life celebrant at Altmeyer Funeral Homes and CARE Funeral & Cremation Specialists in the Ohio Valley. She and her husband, Mike, have lived in Wheeling for 18 years, where they have been raising their two children, Lilly & Haden. Sarah is a collector of people, she has never met a stranger and will always strive to be of service to others.