Mary Owens: Anticipating the needs of family
The start of the New Year gives us all hope for better and less stressful times ahead. I suspect most of us cheered the end to 2020. While we are not officially fighting a war on grounds of our country, we continue to fight an enemy called COVID which is still deadly. The promise of vaccines soon becoming available to us provides some excitement for the future. We are hoping that by summer we can travel freely again, eat out, and gather with our families. The idea of such normalcy brightens our spirits!
The lessons of this unseen enemy have also taught us the value of community and family support. We better understand the importance of doing what we all can to provide comfort and solace to those who lost loved ones or neighbors who need emotional support for the long periods of isolation. It put in better focus the most important blessing in our lives.
The scourge of COVID became very personal for my husband, Andy and I on Christmas Eve. One of Andy’s dearest friends from high school lost his son to COVID that afternoon. The young man, also named Andy, was only 45 years old, with a loving wife and four children at home. Andy was a Major in the Oklahoma City fire department, a twenty-year veteran, and a jovial, outstanding, and compassionate community leader. His brother Tony, a Deputy Chief, also contracted COVID about the same time as his brother. Tony survived, but it was very touch and go for several days. All the members of their immediate family contracted the virus and fortunately they are on their way to recovery. But the saddest of all the events was the impact on Andy’s sweet wife. Her father died from COVID only one week prior to her husband passing. Words cannot express the grief this young woman is experiencing.
These events made me once again consider the things we can do to anticipate the needs of our families during periods of loss. The lessons I am about to repeat are the wise words of my husband, who served grieving families for more than twenty years in Nevada County. To fully understand the wisdom of his advice, imagine you have just undergone the sudden loss of someone you dearly love. What is one of the first “tasks” that must be completed? The funeral arrangements. Very important decisions must be made and made quickly. The pain and emotional stress can be tremendous.
There is a way we can avoid putting this heartbreaking task on those we leave behind. Most funeral homes provide something called a “pre-arrangement” agreement. You meet with a local funeral director and plan out your own funeral. You choose whether to be buried or cremated, pick out your pall bearers, the music to be played, where the service will be held, and the rest of the significant details. You can change what you chose to do at any time. But the real gift is that your remaining loved ones do not have to deal with these difficult choices while they are still dealing with your passing. Your thoughtfulness is a blessing to them by providing increased comfort, knowing that you took the time to state what you wanted, and your wishes are being fulfilled. The stress of all these important decisions has been lifted from their shoulders.
Making funeral arrangements is not as easy as it seems on the surface. Usually, the surviving spouse makes the decisions in the absence of a prearrangement. But if it is a second marriage, with children from a prior marriage, or if siblings do not agree on major decisions such as burial versus cremation, the sparks can fly, and stress can get even worse. Another consideration is who is named as the primary decision-maker in the decedent’s health care directive. In most cases, that is the one legally allowed to make all the funeral arrangement decisions. But what is legally binding is not necessarily a peaceful transition. Unfortunately, discord among siblings or steps in any family is frequently at its worst near or at the time of death of the loved one. A pre-arrangement can reduce or avoid this tension. Grief is a very intense process. It makes people not think clearly and say things they later wish they did not ever let slip out of the mouths.
This last Christmas Eve, I realized that pre-arrangements should be made by everyone if possible. It is not just family that want to avoid squabbles. It is for all your loved ones. It demonstrates your heartfelt understanding of the intensity of grief and stress for those left behind. Imagine Major Andy’s family and how his parents felt. Then imagine how his wife felt. A sudden widow, with four young children to raise by herself, losing both her husband and father within a week. This is not the person you want to put through a task of deciding how to bury her loved ones.
Making a prearrangement is an act of love and understanding. It could be a “New Year’s Resolution” right alongside our promise to get our estate planning in order. These are resolutions that will provide far lasting benefit to our families than our typical new year goals, and after 2020, with so much unexpected loss, it may provide just the comfort we need.
Mary Owens, Founder, Owens Estate & Wealth Strategies Group, Financial Advisor, RJFS, 426 Sutton Way, Suite 110, Grass Valley, CA 95945, 530-272-7500. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC. Owens Estate and Wealth Strategies Group is not a registered broker/dealer and is independent of Raymond James Financial Services.
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