Q: I enjoy your column very much. I am in the process of making arrangements for death and dying. I am 60 years old and so far very healthy, but have always believed in pre-planning.
I think a subject that should be addressed in your column is one that speaks to people making arrangements in advance, but their children not agreeing to such matters. My husband and I have written down all details -- cremation, no "ceremony," no casket or urn. Our children think that for the family's grieving process, some memorial service should take place.
This is just what we want to avoid. We have told our children that we would rather the family use any monies that are available after we die for vacations or something else they would enjoy. I told them that I believe in "pro-choice" in all areas and this is what I want done.
I guess the gist of the matter is: Can anyone be sure that their wishes will be carried out by their family?
A: Inheritance laws give you a reasonably good chance of making sure that your estate is settled as you wish. Ensuring that your family follows your wishes about ceremonies may not be as easy.
However, satisfying your desire for simplicity and your family's need for public acknowledgment of your life and their loss is not as difficult as you think.
Your concern with money is understandable. But since you plan to be cremated, you are already avoiding the major expenses of traditional American funerals.
As you know, cremation can be arranged inexpensively, and there is no need to buy an urn for your ashes -- they will be delivered to your family in a plain but adequate box.
You should give your family some indication of what you want done with your ashes. There are many possibilities: You can have them scattered in a special place, buried or placed in a columbarium, a structure with niches designed to hold cremated remains.
Scattering is probably the simplest and least expensive option. And, if the ashes are properly pulverized, it is usually legal. (Some local jurisdictions may have laws restricting the scattering of ashes to "appropriate places" -- for instance, not on a public tennis court.)
Once the disposition of the body is settled, there are many ways to acknowledge a death with little or no expense involved. Memorial services can take place in churches or other places of worship. They can also be held in a variety of other settings -- outdoors or indoors. They can be formal, using traditional rites and rituals, or they can be informal.
The gatherings can be large or small, long or short, festive or solemn. They can be religious or secular. They can be led by clergy or by family or friends.
Services after a death are held for the living rather than for the dead. This need for some formal, public acknowledgment of grief is as old as human history, and it can be expressed in many ways.
Your children are not being willful or disrespectful to want some ceremony. After all, you are important figures in their lives. With good planning -- perhaps even with your input -- it should be possible to structure a memorial service that you would be happy with and that would not diminish your children's inheritance.
In short, there is no reason not to satisfy everyone: their need for a service and your desire for simplicity. Your death is not just your own business, because it will have profound effects on other people as well. By talking through these things with your family, you are already well on the way to a solution that will be satisfactory all around.