Discussing one’s wishes ahead of time can take the guesswork out of funeral and burial planning when the time comes for family to make important decisions. CNS photo
Discussing one’s wishes ahead of time can take the guesswork out of funeral and burial planning when the time comes for family to make important decisions. CNS photo

By Mark Wilson | Director of Diocesan Cemeteries

No one expected Joe to die.

Replace the name “Joe” with anyone you’ve known into that sentence.  The holidays just passed, and it’s likely that at some point where the conversations paused, a relative repeated the first sentence in this story. “We didn’t know he was sick.” “He was in perfect health.” “He looked great when we last saw him.”  Now plug in your name into the sentence.  Ok, uncomfortable doing that? I’ll use mine. No one expected Mark to die.

There are two basic scenarios about what Mark’s family experiences when Mark dies.  Either Mark’s family needs an immediate course in Funeral and Burial 101, or Mark and his family planned ahead.

Let’s take the first example where Mark made no plans in advance.

Mark is Catholic, goes to Mass on Sunday, and so his family assumes he’d like a Catholic funeral.  What exactly is a “Catholic funeral?” Does that mean a casket, an urn, a Mass, a graveside service, prayers in a funeral home?  What about a viewing? Does Mark want a closed or open casket? Does he want a public or a private viewing? Does he have to have a viewing at all? And what about this embalming thing, is embalming necessary? What’s a DD-214? The funeral director asked if Mark had a DD-214?

The list goes on about the different choices, and I can tell you from experience that when a spouse and two children arrive to make arrangements without having preplanned at the funeral home or cemetery, the likelihood of six opinions from three people is very real. The conversation can go from, “Dad never told me he wanted that” to “He was insistent on being buried in the blue suit.” That dad never told all three the same thing, or never documented his wishes, is when the sorrow can become tense.

Why take the chance on your family guessing what you want rather than writing it down so you get what you want?

Let’s now take the second example of Mark and his family having preplanned his funeral and burial.

When Mark died he had all his choices documented in a letter separate from his Last Will and Testament and not in a safe deposit box at the bank.  That letter, stating his funeral and burial wishes, was clear on what to do when he died. Also, he made sure not only his wife but his two children had copies as well. Why? If you placed this document in a safe deposit box and death occurred when the facility was closed, or worse, over a long weekend, you may not be able to access Mark’s wishes. And today is 2017; put it on a thumb drive as well.

The purpose of this short story is to encourage you to begin the process now of discussing your final wishes. Talk with your spouse, children or other responsible caregiver about what happens when you die. Know well in that conversation that the diocesan cemeteries of the Diocese of Trenton are here to answer questions on choices in our cemeteries, and making that call or visit when you have ample time to consider choices will make for a far better decision for you and your family. We look forward to helping guide you through these choices.