For the 2016 survey, FCA of CT wrote to the 300 Connecticut funeral homes and cremation services requesting their current price lists. As in previous surveys, we then turned to volunteers to contact those funeral establishments that did not respond. The trustees decided to survey some counties in depth and to sample other areas.
Those Obits: “Died” and “passed away” remain the most frequent obituary verbs, but a reader sent in a new one: “breathed her last”. We also saw some open-ended ‘in lieu of flowers’ requests to give to; “a charity of your choice”, “educate children”, “promote the arts” or “take a moment to enjoy the melody of songbirds”. One reader sent an obit of a young accident victim: “He had a big heart. He always lent a helping hand; even in death, he saved numerous lives by his wish to be an organ donor.”
A Wedding: A recent NY Times story tells of the bride who was walked down the aisle by the recipient of her father’s heart donation; the bride said “My dad is here with us and this man is here with us also because of my father’s donation”.
Hold onto your Organ Donor Card: Contrary to popular opinion, older people are not disqualified from being donors, and particularly are needed for donations to older recipients who represent a growing proportion of transplant patients.
Animal Companions from cats and dogs to turtles and snakes, if they are cremated, may now be legally buried with their owners in NY cemeteries.
NBC’s The Good Place = Heaven: Are you going to watch this comedy of life hereafter for the elite, ecologically correct, compassionate, no cursing dead? Or,
‘Chronic’: A recent review of this new movie about a palliative care worker describes it “an unflinching look at pending mortality.”
Drs. need help: The AARP reports that most doctors agree they should talk with patients on end-of-life choices, but many fail to do so because they are unsure of what to say or worried that by talking about these plans the patient will feel that the prognosis is hopeless. Perhaps it’s time for informed FCA consumers to initiate that talk and help Drs. learn to communicate on this vital topic.
Recent Vatican Cremation Rules clarify that ashes should be buried in consecrated grounds, not scattered, kept at home, or turned into jewelry or ocean reefs.
Saying goodbye forever is always difficult both for the voyager and for those who stay. But worse still is leaving with no communication. I have always appreciated the good friends who let me know of their serious diagnosis or their move to hospice, and for the chance to exchange loving reminiscences, thoughts, and adieus. Often, when that is not possible, things are left unsaid with a poignant emptiness.
So I was particularly interested in a recent article by VJ Periyakoil, a geriatric and palliative care doctor, who has developed a format for thinking through and writing farewell letters. The idea grew out of the treatment of a stoic, silent patient with terminal cancer who was unable to discuss his feelings with family but could with the doctor. Together, they recorded a letter which expressed his loving memories and pride for his family. When his wife and son heard the taped letter, they were amazed and moved to tears.
This experience was very comforting for both the patient and the family. It led to a project to encourage patients to put their often unexpressed feelings into words and to write letters to important family members and friends which acknowledge their importance in one’s life, recall treasured moments, apologize for possible hurts, forgive those who had been hurtful, and say good-by with love. The project created, tested and revised templates for these last letters, expanded the audience from terminal patients to sick ones and then, since death is often unexpected, to healthy people. Currently, free templates for those with serious illness and those in good health are available in eight languages; along with instructions, examples and videos they are available on line. The mechanical process is relatively simple since the templates can be filled out, revised, and printed easily from one’s computer.
Some may find a farewell letter template overly rigid, but it need not be followed exactly; innovation and personalization are encouraged and people should include only with what they are comfortable. Some find the template is too simplistic for complex, sensitive feelings but it offers an important starting point and wide map of issues to consider. To those who feel a template and a review of memories is unnecessary since a farewell letter is intuitive and natural, the only question one might ask is “have you written your messages yet?”
It is not always easy to carve out a letter of love; it takes time, thought, and sometimes courage to review and express emotional bonds, but it can be a healing summary for the writer and a loving legacy for the reader.
(Go to med.standfor.edu/letter to review the suggested process, obtain the template, and write your letters.)