Why plan your memorial?

Planning Your MemorialI’m offering a “Planning Your Memorial” workshop on November 1 (12:30-1:30 p.m. at Chalice). My husband, who doesn’t like to discuss things like mortality and death, doubted that anybody would come, but I have already heard from several people who plan to attend. It may be that the world is divided into people who face mortality by talking about what happens after death and people who face mortality by being unconcerned with what happens after death. We won’t be here for our memorial services, after all.

So why plan your memorial? The vast majority of you have families that are unfamiliar with what it means to belong to a church, and they don’t know me, your minister. When it comes time to plan your service, it is not unusual for the family—wanting to honor their beloved deceased—to become anxious about “getting it right.” They don’t understand that I knew you. They don’t understand that the congregation knows how to come together to honor the deceased. And it can be stressful for your family to try and figure things out.

A memorial service is a container for a communal grieving experience. Inviting you to help plan your own memorial isn’t an invitation for you to become preoccupied with planning a “perfect” memorial. But it is a way for you to let me know some of your favorite hymns, readings or poems, and who you might like to speak and share memories of you. These are the kinds of decisions that can feel mysterious to earnest families, and what a gift for me to be able to tell them, “I already have that information.”

There are many decisions that will not be yours to make. You don’t want to add stress for your grieving family (or your beloved minister!) by documenting wishes they may not be able to honor. When the memorial is held, if the choir sings (and what), whether or not there is a reception…these may be things you let us know what to do “if possible,” while understanding not everything you want may be possible.

But what if you’re not sure you want a memorial? The memorial service is for the grieving community, your family and friends. You do not serve them well by telling them you don’t want a memorial service. The service is for them, not you. They need to express their sorrow, to share it with others, and to be comforted by knowing your memory lives on.

But what if you don’t want to plan your memorial? No worries! I know not everyone will be interested in this exercise. Having a memorial at Chalice is not dependent on documenting your memorial wishes in advance.

What if I can’t attend the workshop? I hope to offer the workshop annually, and I will also have worksheets that you can fill out at home, without having attended the workshop. Just email me (or phone the office), and we’ll get them to you.

I know that thinking about death and memorial services can be dreary. It’s certainly not for everyone. But surely one of the great unspoken benefits of belonging to a church is knowing that your memory will be honored when you have passed away.

Bright blessings, Sharon

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