There are a number of reasons that people preplan their final arrangements. Some do it to control the costs. Many preplan to save their family members from having to make difficult decisions when they are emotionally stressed. This then allows those family members to focus on their emotional needs, following the loss, rather than having to make financially related choices.
In my more than 40 years in funeral service, I only encountered one family that was not relieved that the arrangements had been made in advance. In that case, their relative had not told them that he had preplanned and prepaid his services. They only discovered this after the services were held at a different funeral home and they found a copy of the contract in a safety deposit box. Needless to say, this added to their grief.
While not having to make funeral related decisions after a loss can lessen that element of grief, it does not eliminate it completely. Grief is the normal and natural reaction to any change we experience in life. The death of someone you love is obviously a big change. No matter how much you think you have prepared yourself for this loss, you will likely still find yourself grieving.
John James, the founder of the Grief Recovery Institute, once shared with me the story of his father’s death. He and his father had some challenges in their relationship, which is not uncommon. John had taken grief recovery action on his own to deal with those things. He was also with his father when he was dying, and had the opportunity to share more things with him prior to his death. He thought he was in good shape with things. And then his father took his last breath and died. With that last breath, John immediately thought of more things he wished had been different, better, or more in their relationship, which left him with more grief recovery work to do.
Make sure you are making the best plans for everyone.
I am a firm believer in the value of preplanning funeral arrangements. I truly believe that it is a final gift for your family. It saves them from having to decide what you would have wanted, because those wishes have been spelled out for them. Ideally, you should talk about these choices with your family in advance, to make sure that they comfortable with the decisions you have made. You would not want to add to their grief by, for instance, preplanning a direct cremation if this was something they vehemently opposed. Having their input allows you to craft a service that will take into account their emotional needs, as well as your own. Preplanning your service will not eliminate their grief, but it certainly means that you will not be adding to it by forcing them to make all the necessary decisions after you are gone.
Why wait to take Grief Recovery Action until after a loss?
Since you will still be faced with grief after a death, does this mean that it is a waste of time to take any grief recovery action before the death occurs? Absolutely not! Taking action prior to a loss will lighten your burden of grief later and can actually help you improve that relationship before the death. Even the best relationships can have little issues. Left unattended, those little issues can grow into bigger ones. Even if this does not happen, why let something small take away from your happiness on any level? I can honestly say that I have no relationships in my life, ongoing or not, on which I have not taken grief recovery action. The vast majority of those people have no idea that I have done this. They do not need to know because I did it, not for their sake, but for my own! I wanted to make sure that I was in the position of getting the greatest benefit out of those relationships and eliminating any emotional pain that might be associated with them.
When I first became involved in grief recovery work, I did so to help me better serve and help those families I met as a funeral director. I really did not think I was suffering any personal grief on any level. I quickly learned that, like most people, I had become so accustomed to stuffing my own feelings that I did not realize how these grief issues we impacting my everyday life. Once I started taking action on both those losses I had experienced and my ongoing relationships, I found more room in my heart for joy. Grief recovery actually allowed me a chance to experience more happiness than I thought possible. I think it can do this for everyone else as well.