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Weekly Tips From MSBC

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What Happens When We Die Alone Without Family to Take Good Care?

September 13, 2018

That’s a darn good question!

I was working away at the midtown offices of the Memorial Society of BC when this lovely elderly woman arrived for a chat about her end of life preparations. She lives all alone, quite happily she said, and has been since her husband passed away many years ago. She has some friends she volunteers with but no family to speak of.

She dropped by to begin the planning of her death and was wondering about such things as what funeral home to choose, whether to prepay or not and what sort of arrangements she should make; all very important questions to ask, questions that form a great foundation for an excellent end of life plan.

She took one of our membership application forms and headed out to investigate several funeral homes in our area. She likes to do her research before making any decisions, she said and headed on her way. I encouraged her to return once she had decided to join as a member of the Memorial Society of BC.

It struck me a little later that a large percentage of elderly women live alone, in fact 63% of seniors over the age of seventy-five live alone and 69% of them are women. So what happens when they die at home, alone? A breath-taking question indeed. It brought up a lot of questions for me; who would know? How would the person who discovered them know what to do or who to call? If there were funeral arrangements where would they be? If there were no arrangements made who would make them?

The questions kept pouring through my mind.

It seems we could have a problem on our hands given the expected increase in the number of deaths, the wait lists for long term care, the overcrowded and over worked medical system, and a limited number of hospice beds available. Though local health authorities are exploring this issue and plans are in place for more hospice beds, the plans include funding for only 47 more hospice beds province-wide.

To ensure that our elders living alone are well taken care of at end of life we need to support them in making their funeral service arrangements well in advance and to have them on file with the Memorial Society for example in order that their wishes can be acted upon. Membership will ensure that plans are made and that a Memorial Society membership card is in their wallet and a fridge magnet with our contact number is clearly visible. This is one possible solution to what I see as a potential social and community challenge.

 

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Bringing Death Back to Life – How We Could Talk to our Children

September 12, 2018

I remember when I was young living and playing with ‘reckless abandon’ whether it be on the ice hockey rink, in the back yard, or the family playroom. It was this full on life energy in action. It, well actual I, didn’t fit well in a box, I was a handful to try and contain, and I didn’t ‘behave’ myself at least according to others. I was so full of life.

Well that changed a little for me when my grandpa Joe died way back in the late 1950’s perhaps early sixties. I think I was ten or eleven. Us kids didn’t know about funerals, caskets, viewings and all that sort of taboo death stuff. We did know grandpa was dead but not much more that than.

At the funeral home I was full of questions. Questions that the adults present, including my parents, seemed most unwilling to confront.

“Why was grandpa in a box?”

“Why was he wearing a suit and tie?”

“What was he doing with makeup on his face?”

“Why was his skin cold?”

“Can I hug him good-bye, and where is he going?”

The answers to my curious, and numerous questions were “shhh!” Or “not now” or “don’t ask so many questions.” I ultimately found myself outside with a few other children so the adults could say a proper good-bye without any childish interruptions. What disturbed me most was not the grandpa Joe was dead but that no one was helping me make sense of it or helping me to understand what death meant and what at the funeral stuff was about.

I felt like there was something wrong, something that kids shouldn’t know about what had just happened. I got scared. I started to have a recurring dream of me crossing a six-lane highway and stumbling and getting up. As the cars came closer I would stumble more and get up more quickly and stumble more quickly and the cars would get closer and wham! I would wake up in a cold sweat, scared out of my wits. Frightened to death.

Now I can’t say for sure and absolutely it is all conjecture but what could have happened if my parents and adults around me at grandpa’s funeral had of handled my questions this way, in a way that honored death as a fundamental and important aspect of a full life;

“Why was grandpa in a box?”

Well honey it is called a casket and we have put grandpa so we can say good-bye and bury him in the cemetery.

“Why was he wearing a suit and tie?”

We dressed him in a suit and tie as a form respect for him and his life. It is sort of like getting dressed up for an important occasion.

“What was he doing with makeup on his face?”

When we die honey the skin looses its color and grandpa was very pal. The makeup is to make grandpa Joe look like he did when he was alive.

“Why was his skin cold?”

When our body dies our heart stops and our blood does flow anymore. Remember last winter when our furnace broke down and the house got cold. It is a little like that son.

“Can I hug him good-bye, and where is he going?”

You sure can. Let me lift you up so you can.

These answers would have been natural, honest, spoken in the way a child can understand and they didn’t shy away from the topic of death, they faced calmly and humanly. I still would have been sad of course but I wouldn’t have been scared. The adults’ answers were letting me know I was capable of dealing with grandpa’s death.

So indeed let us bring death back to life an enable our young ones to handle the challenges of life by facing death, loss, and grief head on, gently and in terms they can understand.

 

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Lack of Planning Can Result in Chaos

September 4, 2018

 

There was a family upset I witnessed several years ago that could have easily been avoided by timely planning – it was a nasty public upset indeed. Two family members were fighting in the chapel over whom would get their parent’s cremated remains. Yep a public, hurtful, and unnecessary upset. It affected everyone who was in attendance at the ceremony and really hurt the surviving spouse and the children. It left tarnished what was supposed to be a ceremony of loving good-byes.

Now you might say that this was an extreme example and perhaps it is, yet I have witnessed other family upsets that may not be as public but were as hurtful at a time when we could be saying our loving good-byes as opposed to fighting.

A family member of ours who did their end of life planning well in advance and who involved all the family members in the preparations told us of how graceful and loving their ceremonies for their mom were. They also mentioned that one of the primary reasons for the loving sendoff was that they worked out all their differences during the planning phase. Getting everyone on the same page well in advanced resulted in a chaos free end of life celebration.

So please do choose to have what may seem to be challenging conversations about your end of life wishes well in advance. Record them on your arrangement form, send a copy to the staff here at the Memorial Society of BC, and keep a copy for family use somewhere in the home.

You will be so glad you did!

 

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Blog Posts Coming Soon

September 3, 2018

Welcome to our new website.
We will be posting new and informative blog posts soon.

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What Happens When We Die Alone Without Family to Take Good Care?

That’s a darn good question! I was working away at...

Read More...

Bringing Death Back to Life – How We Could Talk to our Children

I remember when I was young living and playing with...

Read More...

Lack of Planning Can Result in Chaos

  There was a family upset I witnessed several years...

Read More...

Blog Posts Coming Soon

Welcome to our new website. We will be posting new...

Read More...