For Seniors: The Dignity of Death

Mar 5th, 2010 | By Dr Jerry D Elrod | Category: Senior Moments Blog

After 40-plus years in the ministry, I have developed a sense of what I think should be considered at the time of death.  And as a member of a large extended family, there are several instructions I want to leave with my family before I die.  Some people cringe at the thought of having to deal with such matters, but deal with it we must.  It is easy enough to say that I will leave all the particulars to my family after my death, after all I won’t be around to protest if I don’t like their choices.  My 40-plus years suggest that is a major cop-out.

It seems to me that each individual has the right to cast his/her proxy about the matters related to his/her passing and the details that will surround whatever ceremony, if any, accompanies it. 

Making sure that the occasion, however put together, has quality, sensitivity and dignity is at least among the most important considerations. 

Let’s address dignity, first.  Dignity should take into account the recognition and celebration of the life of the deceased.  This may be done through well chosen music, appropriate eulogy and or testimonies, and other matters which would lend themselves to honoring the life of the deceased.  No favorite songs of a member of the family.  Focus on music reminiscent of the deceased.  No cutesy poems, rushed to the podium at the last minute.  No calling for people to walk past the deceased one last time. 

Consider a private burial service.  It is here that the family should and can be together.  It is here that brief words of praise can be shared in parting.  Eulogy means praise.  It does not give permission for long rambling religious appeals. 

Following on the service components, gather for an informal sharing among friends and family.  Be sure food and drink are served.  Allow persons to do their celebrating and grieving in a common setting of joy and remembrance.

Allow persons the opportunity to tell their stories to one another.  Give occasion for music to be played, but keep it light, not macabre or too sentimental .  This is a time to recall the good things about the departed and to emphasize those in a spirit of frivolity and celebration. 

This also is no time for a sermon.  The focus of the occasion needs to be on faith, hope, eternal life, and the joy of having had a part in the life of the deceased.  Persons need to leave the service with spirits and hearts lifted.  It is no time to prompt guilt or shame.

Give the chance for persons to embrace one another and to share their attention and affection with family, known or unknown. 

Dignifying Death involves starting before the individual dies.  It means respecting wishes, planning collaboratively, allowing for the spirit of the occasion to reflect the genuine life of the one whose life will be the center of attention.  Celebration is a far more meaningful and dignified approach to saying good bye than creating an emotionally charged environment through the singing of songs that prompt wailings and loud emotional responses.  While there may be  a time and place for that, the occasion of a ceremony is just that, a time to render respect, honor and significant praise for the person who has died.

Grieving is a process.  Allow the process.  Do not try to stuff all your grieving on the occasion of whatever occasion is conducted at death.  Give yourself permission to grieve at those times when you feel the need in privacy and through your own sense of loss.



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