By The Globe and Mail Custom Content Group
Until the unthinkable happened in 2011, Ottawa blogger Ann Bacciaglia was like most of us: she didn’t talk about death.
“We were young and healthy,” she says today. “Why would we talk about things like that?”
That changed after the unexpected death of her 44-year-old husband in 2011. He’d taken the time to write a will, fortunately, but Ms. Bacciaglia was stunned by the number of decisions she was left to make on her own.
“Your life has been altered in a devastating way. You’re in a daze. All of a sudden someone is asking, ‘Did he want to be buried or cremated?’”
Afraid she wasn’t making the arrangements her husband would have chosen for himself, she was left with a profound sense of guilt. “You start thinking, ‘How could I not know?’”
She has since made it a personal mission to help others avoid a similar experience by encouraging them to have those difficult but essential conversations. “I’ve now done this with my parents, and it gives me great peace of mind to know that I’m going to do exactly what they want,” she says. She has also passed on that gift to her children by pre-planning her own arrangements and making sure they know the details. “It’s an uncomfortable conversation, but everybody dies. You have to push aside your fears and the awkwardness, so they don’t have to guess.”
A recent survey by Environics, commissioned by Arbor Memorial, reveals that about 60 per cent of Canadians haven’t shared their wishes. “This means they are leaving their loved ones to figure it all out,” says Arbor’s director of marketing Dustin Wright. “When the time comes, the questions about how you will be memorialized, what you would have wanted – you’re leaving that to your loved ones at a time when it’s very difficult for them to process and make those decisions.”
By the numbers
A recent survey by Environics, commissioned by Arbor Memorial, reveals a large percentage of Canadians haven’t shared their wishes regarding their funeral arrangements.
admit they only know basic details of their partner’s funeral preferences, or haven’t discussed the topic at all.
of respondents claim to have given at least “some thought” to their end-of-life wishes.
haven’t shared those wishes with anyone, leaving their loved ones to figure out all the details and guess at what they would have wanted.
say they know every detail of their parents’ funeral preferences.
Few people would dream of asking someone else to plan their wedding or other major life events, he notes. “But we often hear, ‘I’m too young to worry about that’ – even among spry folks in their 80s,” he says.
It is easy to underestimate the complexity of the arrangements to be made, says Mr. Wright. “At Arbor, we say there are up to 87 decisions required when a death occurs. If nothing is planned in advance, that person could have to deal with all of those details within 72 hours.”
It is also common to decide on cremation and consider the matter concluded, but that is really just the first step in the process, he stresses. “How will your family and friends reconnect to celebrate your life and mourn together?
“We are always striving for opportunities to bring more meaning to our families’ experiences, with personalized receptions and gatherings. There are many options – so it’s an important discussion to have ahead of time.”
Many people include their last wishes in their will, but in most cases the will isn’t opened until after the funeral or memorial service, says Mr. Wright. “You don’t want to put your family in a position where they find out, after they’ve had to make all these decisions on your behalf, that it was different than what you intended.
Pre-planning means you’ll be remembered the way you’d like to be remembered, and allows your family to focus on the grieving process. It removes that burden.”
Speaking to a planning professional is an effective way to start the process, he says. “Just as we seek professional advice in so many other areas in our lives, the guidance of a funeral or cemetery professional can help you start this essential dialog – and translate your wishes into a plan.”