The Last Gift

In February 2019, I underwent a cardiac ablation, the result of a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation in December 2018. Like most people facing a health crisis, I scoured the Internet during the weeks leading up to the ablation to learn as much as I could about the procedure. I read about the possibility of severe bleeding, heart valve damage, stroke, heart attack, kidney damage, and yes… death. Yikes! When I got to that last possibility, my mind began to race.

A week before the procedure I ran into a BMPC member at the grocery store. During our conversation, he mentioned that he really appreciated the music at a funeral he recently attended. I thanked him and then asked him if he’d given any thought to the music he wanted for HIS service. He responded, “Absolutely!” I said, “Well, that’s great! Have you sent that information to the church?” Pointing to his head, he said, “No, it’s right here!” We laughed and I urged him to write everything down and make sure his family and the pastors had that information.

In 2008, when it was clear that my younger brother was losing his battle with stage 4 metastatic melanoma, I asked him if he wanted to talk about his memorial service. He was horrified and said, “Absolutely not.” Two months later, he died and I experienced firsthand what can happen to a family in the chaos of death. We had no idea what Jamie wanted for his service. Sadly, there was nothing but disagreement amongst our family members about those arrangements.

My parents wanted a traditional service in their church. His wife wanted a service at the lake where he kayaked. Who would officiate? Would we sing? What would we sing? Who would speak? What readings would we include? When his wife insisted that the family wear a T-shirt with my brother’s favorite saying printed on it, my mother broke down, saying, “I’m wearing black for my son’s funeral, not an awful T-shirt.” (She did finally agree to wear a T-shirt over her black dress.) I was relieved that, several days later, the service, though highly unconventional, managed to honor my brother. Unfortunately, the anger generated in the chaos of uncertainty lingered for months and permanently impacted my mom’s relationship with his wife.

All of this led to my decision to plan my own service before undergoing my cardiac ablation. Even though I had provided music for more than 2,000 memorial services, figuring out MY service proved to be a bigger challenge than I imagined. After hours of reading scripture passages and making endless lists of music possibilities, things began to come together. When I finished the final draft of the service, I experienced incredible relief and joy that my family members would not have to make these decisions in the midst of grief.

I encourage you to reflect about the realities of life and to take steps to ease the burden on your family by planning your memorial service. The church’s Caring Ministries team, headed up by the Rev. Brian Ballard, has provided wonderful resources to assist you in this process. Don’t view this is as a morbid experience, but rather as the last gift you will give to your family. Like me, you just might find the process to be a joyful experience!