Spring 2006: Preparing and Sharing

by Stuart E. Rapp

When I walked into the kitchen from some errands in mid-morning, my wife held up a scribbled message while talking quietly but urgently on the phone. “Danny was killed in an auto accident early this morning near Frederick, Maryland” it read. My second son was calling about the sudden death of his older brother. Certain as death is to us all, probably nothing else can deliver its numbing shock. That fact is what can make our FCA services so valuable, at the very time when we are the least emotionally prepared, no matter how “ready” we planned to be.

Arriving at my son’s home near Washington, DC, before midnight, I managed a few minutes alone with newly-widowed Julie, apart from our extended family. We both sensed what difference a few minutes of planning would make in the rest of our time together.

And indeed it did. Julie had already largely decided that she preferred cremation to other practices, and a family-based memorial gathering rather than a funeral home or traditional church-based funeral. I told her of the resources I had discovered through my membership in FCA of CT, and that, if she wished, I could explore them here for possible sources of help. She readily agreed.

By next morning, we had found the “yellow pages” entry for the FCA affiliate in her area. I left a message, identifying myself as a FCA member and Board member in Connecticut. We received a helpful callback from the emergency contact and learned from him about a well-reputed cremation service and a nearby church with appropriate facilities.

The cremation service responded to Julie’s call, visited her in person and patiently explained their services and options. Julie asked them to handle the securing and disposition of Danny’s body, which they did, in cooperation with a local crematorium. The service also supplied all legal documentation and personal delivery of the ashes in a plain but durable container. This enabled Julie to share the scattering of the ashes with closest family members.

The cremation service met all these needs with promptness, courtesy and reasonable cost. The use of these services – and those of the religious facility and leadership – resulted in expenses more modest than comparable functions of a standard funeral establishment. Naturally, these choices vary depending on family preferences and requirements at time of death.

As luck would have it – and there was some luck involved – a helpful minister was available to lead the memorial service, and the church welcomed us into their large fellowship space for a beautiful and memorable celebration of Danny’s life by family, co-workers and close friends. First, a gathering time enabled far-flung family and friends to greet and share their grief. In the background was a photo montage; a long video loop, prepared by closest co-workers, used Danny’s favorite music as the sound track and showed images from various family albums from Danny’s birth to the present.

The minister represented the non-doctrinal part of the religious spectrum, so that the service concentrated on spontaneous words of love and recollection from those closest to Danny. These concluded with a simple and beautiful appreciation of his father by son Nathan, the most moving words of all. The minister surrounded these “last tender offices of faith and love” by readings from the Scriptures and concluding prayers. An informal time with refreshments followed for those who could remain.

The luck I mentioned had to do with the dovetailing of availability and time in this case, which nothing can guarantee. The FCA affiliate, however, fully lived up to its own guarantee. It helped us cope with the experience of death at reasonable cost, while enabling the family to maintain its own dignity and that of the one who had died. I now realize, more deeply than before, why membership in FCA is such a valuable asset in our end-of-life planning.