A few months ago, during a Compensation and Benefits class I was teaching, I encouraged students to ‘think outside the box’ when it came to the benefits they’d like to see their employers offer on top of the standards such as health insurance and 401k contribution. Students responded with ideas such as,
As they responded, I pondered over my answer. I said excitedly, “What about funeral planning?”
The class fell silent as quickly as flicking a switch. One student exclaimed, “That sounds morbid.”
I was confused by her response. In my mind, my funeral would be a festive party, a large celebration of life: Family, friends, students and clients sharing stories about me, some funny and some triumphant. Hors d’oeuvres passed around, champagne flowing. People who felt I’d touched their lives in some way walked around smiling, looking at photos of me with my family and chatting over posters that proudly displayed my writing, my book covers and other mementos of my life’s work. The lyrics of Tom Petty and Taylor Swift swirled about the room. I saw guests bringing toy donations for the local hospital and leaving with a small token of appreciation, like a picture frame donning an inspiring quote.
I looked at the student, her face expressionless, and then it hit me: Death to her is different than it is to me.
I guessed that death, in her mind, was scary, somber, and probably marked finality. I used to feel the same, but I now believe that death allows us to come home, that our soul lives on and we continue to communicate with those still in human form. We come to Earth again when we are ready.
My belief that there is something more beyond our deaths has expanded my understanding and acceptance of an imminent life event. While death may mark the end of life on Earth, it doesn’t mean my soul’s purpose fails to live on. Proof exists in those who attend my funeral; my everlasting purpose thrives in those who feel I’ve made a difference in their lives.
Since expanding my view of death, my life has shifted. I’m no longer worried about doing things ‘the right way’ and I don’t carry nearly as much regret knowing I’ll have a chance to do it all again in another life.
Thinking about planning my funeral and taking away some of the family burdens that came with that planning sounded fun, it sounded ‘me’. Afterall, I’m a Type A personality. Why not plan my own last “hoorah!” and have it funded by my employer.
This isn’t to say that death isn’t tragic and filled with grief – I empathized with my student. Death is unknown, mysterious, and flat-out hard, but I believe it can be more than just its inherent gloom. It’s a chance to connect with our intuition and our soul. A time to get curious and challenge our assumptions about life and death (and funerals) handed down to us. At my funeral, the last thing I want is people wearing black; I want everyone wearing an inspirational quote on a t-shirt and hope I’m buried in something cheerful and bright.
With the tremendous loss of life the world experienced in 2020, I want to challenge your thinking when it comes to death. What if death could be beautiful? What if death could be accepted? If you could change your perspective of death, how would the decisions you make in your life change?
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PS – Here’s an affirmation to help you open up to the idea of death, “Death does not break the bond of love.”
PPS – To get comfortable with death and grief, you need to think about it differently. Here are two different writing prompts, depending on what you want to focus on: Death: Write your own obituary. Aim for it to be truthful, vulnerable and light-hearted. Be sure to give yourself at least 3 kudos by highlighting some of your amazing life accomplishments and talents. To widen your perspective of death further, try adding some comedic flair. Grief: Write a letter to yourself from the person you are mourning. What would they say to you? What advice and kudos would they give you? What have they been doing to have fun?