According to Bloomburg.com, baby boomers have taken to calling together friends and family to have dinner and talk about death. At first, I thought this was one of those bogus trend stories that journalists cook up, like pharm parties, or -- ha ha, this one is nutty -- Rush Limbaugh starring as a super awesome Time Lord in a children's history book, can you imagine? We get it, journalists. You had a deadline and hangover, and this is what you came up with.
But it turns out the death party story is true. There's actually a popular program from the University of Washington called “Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death.” And it's a great idea.
The idea is to get people together in a relaxed setting so they can discuss the hard questions before it's too late -- questions like, "Who gets the kids if we die?" "How much medical intervention do I want if I find myself on life support?" "Where do I want to be buried?" and even "We do actually realize that we're going to die someday, right?"
Catholics ought, at very least, to have a good answer for that last question. If not, All Soul's Day is a great time to brush up on the Last Things -- to talk frankly, an an age-appropriate level, with your various family members about what we believe.
What else should we all have conversations about?
What's in the will. Anyone who has children should decide who will have custody of them if both parents die. Anyone with material assets of any kind should also decide what should happen to them after you die. It's a good idea not only to make a will, but to make sure that close family knows where the will is, and what's in it, so there are no unhappy surprises at an already terrible time.
Understanding and planning for end-of-life care. Some Catholics believe that we are obligated to exhaust every possible means of extending life, but this is not so. The National Catholic Bioethics Center does an excellent job of explaining our choices and obligations in their Catholic Guide to End-of-Life Decisions, which includes a link where you can buy forms to legally designate your Advanced Medical Directive and Health Care Proxy The pamphlets notes that "[a]ssigning Durable Power of Attorney is preferable to an Advance Directive because it leaves decisions in the hands of someone whom the patient has personally chosen," rather than spelling out preferences about specific treatment plans, which may or may not be appropriate, depending on the situation.
Planning funerals and burials. If you are old or in very poor health, it's a good idea to make some provisions for the practical side of your own death. My own parents actually hired a local carpenter to build their coffins, which are now in their guest bedroom (and, if I know my parents, are probably filled with books). It's a work of mercy to decide the details -- and to pay for them -- ahead of time, if possible, so that grieving family will be spared that trial.
Have you had these conversations with your family? Have you suffered the death of a family or close friend? What other death-related matters should be discussed?