Faith Works: Now is the right time to plan for your funeral

It’s no secret that the state funeral of her late majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, was planned literally decades before it was needed. “Operation London Bridge” and all that, plus “Operation Unicorn” if she died in Scotland. Every eventuality was taken into account.

When my father died a couple of years ago, and my sister and I went down to Texas to help our mother sort matters out, one thing very quickly occurred to us. My dad, who was a very thoughtful man in many ways, had never considered he might die in Texas. It wasn’t their home, you see. It was just where they spent the winter in a retirement community by the Rio Grande.

Jeff Gill
Jeff Gill

For over a decade, they spent half the year in Texas. But my dad’s plans all implied directly or indirectly that when he met his Maker, it would be from an embarkation point out of Indiana. It never occurred to him he’d die away from home.

Trust me, I’m not saying Queen Elizabeth was smarter than my dad, though they would have had plenty to talk about (Churchill, mostly). After all, she had lots of staff.

Yet just because we don’t have a Steward to the Household and Black Rod and Chief of Heraldry and Lord High Chamberlain, et cetera, that doesn’t mean we can’t sit down with a pad of paper or a computer with a printer and knock out some final arrangement planning. It doesn’t have to be a royal affair, but it does help to have a plan on paper, or in a 2022 sense, posted or uploaded or saved somewhere where people who care about you can find it, if say you die in Texas or something like that.

And at this point, I want to speak both to those planning for themselves, and those who are going to be responsible for executing those plans: often known as an executor, formally or informally.

Speaking as a longtime parish minister, one of the most painful parts after the initial grief for the family of someone who died is dealing with what is and is not prepared for. So many times I hear over and over “they took care of everything in advance,” and then we learn this only meant there’s a cemetery lot purchased.

With all due respect, if you’ve bought a burial plot, you’ve checked off one item on a very long list, and a fairly modest portion of the total cost. The funeral costs start with the handling of the body (we’ll discuss cremation another day) and carry on into a number of areas where savings are possible, but there’s still a number of expenditures involved, let alone details.

And it’s also heartbreaking when family thinks “well, she had a small insurance policy to cover her final expenses” and in the process we learn the payments stopped on that policy, small though they were, when Great-Aunt Hattie Mae went into the memory unit three years ago. There are also times when everyone’s sure there’s some kind of provision for funeral costs but no one can find the paperwork.

Just to clear up a few other recurring confusions: Social Security has a death benefit, but last I checked it was in the low three figures. The deceased is a veteran? That will get you the flag and an honor guard of some sort, but it doesn’t automatically cover everything. Or most of it.

Let’s talk about the more uplifting parts of laying someone to rest, whether yourself or someone you love. I can’t say this often enough, and I’ve said it many times, from pulpits and in print: there are few things that bring smiles to sad faces and cheer to a grieving family like opening an envelope and reading the outline written out by the deceased for their own funeral.

Lists of songs, music you like or even what you absolutely don’t want at your funeral; preferred Bible verses are great, names of people you want to have speak at the service even better. If you want Corgis to be waiting on their leashes at the cemetery entrance when the hearse pulls up, you’re going to need to say so in advance, and in writing. After all, you’re not the Queen.

But as a pastor, I can safely say there are few situations where I’ve felt more secure and confident about how a service should go than when I’m working from a plan made out by the person whose homegoing we’re about to honor.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he’s got a plan in an envelope in a filing cabinet. Tell him how you’ve made final plans at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Newark Advocate: Faith Works: Now is the right time to plan for your funeral