How advance funeral planning can help you have a ‘good death’
Financial planning for a less stressful — and more peaceful — end to life
By Karla Walsh
Of course, everyone would love to live a long, healthy life from start to finish. But if you had to choose, would you prefer a longer lifespan with a challenging end or a slightly shorter one that’s well-lived with less pain and suffering? Today, many Americans are choosing quality over quantity — a “good death.” Here’s what you need to know about the concept of a good death, how to navigate the challenging discussions involved, and making advance funeral planning a pivotal part of the process.
What is a good death?
Defining “good death” is challenging, because it is an extremely personal topic that’s unique for each individual, explains Allison Forti, Ph.D., associate director of the online master’s in counseling program at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“The important variables — quality of life, level of distress and suffering, timeframe, existential and spiritual beliefs, relational support, wishes and expectations, and cultural norms — carry different weight and desires depending on the values and needs of a person,” said Forti. “A good death, therefore, means evaluating these variables and establishing goals and needs, then communicating them with family, friends, and health care workers. Compassionate and open communication is a critical component of a good death.”
Tracy Thomas, Ph.D., psychologist and founder of Dr. Tracy, Inc., an emotional training company in California, adds that a good death is an intention to fully live life rather than live with a chronic fear of dying.
In recent years, the concept of a good death has been embraced by more Americans, from people who are sick and dying to their loved ones and the doctors who care for them. Many states have passed aid-in-dying laws that allow people who meet certain criteria to choose doctor-assisted suicide. Death Cafes have popped up around the world to host open conversations about death, and people are actively focusing on their quality of death along with their quality of life.
How to plan a good death
A good death can mean peace of mind, not just for you but also your loved ones. Having your affairs in order through estate planning can ease the emotional and financial burden for the people you leave behind.
Forti explains that although many factors contribute to how well someone copes with the loss of a loved one, research indicates that unexpected death is associated with more challenging emotional coping, higher risk for depression, and reduced physical health for loved ones.
When discussing your end-of-life wishes, have an organized list of advanced healthcare directives and discuss each topic slowly, working to express and define your wishes clearly. For example, do you want to preplan a cremation with a funeral service or just a traditional burial with a celebration of life?
“It makes sense for all of us to have these plans in place early on and then just make adjustments as time goes on and our intentions change. Leaving anything up to chance because you're afraid to deal with it is actually something that reduces mental health, and being a proactive partner takes the responsibility off of others to choose for you,” said Thomas.
The value of advance funeral planning
Advance funeral planning is valuable for many reasons, but Thomas believes the most convincing and important factor is that you can transition from life knowing that you have everything set up the way you wanted. Choose where and how you’d like to be buried or cremated, who you’d like to be involved in your memorial, and when and how you’d like life-saving measures to be terminated. (This free advance funeral planning guide can walk you through the process step by step.)
Great Western Insurance Company’s Voyage Single Premium Preneed plan makes it easy to plan and pay for your own funeral, so your loved ones won’t have to. It is designed to credit a favorable growth rate to the face amount of the policy OR a return of the premiums paid as a death benefit, whichever is higher. You’ll never pay more than what gets returned in a death benefit. It’s also available in One-year, Three-year, Five-year, or Ten-year payment plans.
Few people find it easy to talk about death, but planning and taking steps to prepare for a good death — including getting your affairs in order and advance funeral planning — can make saying goodbye less painful and more peaceful.
“Many people fear the unknown of death, being in pain, relying on the care of others, burdening loved ones, and losing a sense of dignity and control,” said Forti. “Be kind to yourself in the hard moments, be mindful of your suffering and consider that you are not alone. All people will eventually know what it is like to grieve for someone, and all people eventually will die. A peaceful, good death can be a call to live during the remaining time if death is tended to with openness, respect, and dignity.”
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