Memorial Instructions in Literature and in Life

“The Geat people built a pyre for Beowulf, stacked and decked it until it stood four-square, hung with helmets, heavy war-shields and shining armour, just as he had ordered. Then his warriors laid him in the middle of it, mourning a lord far-famed and beloved.” (From Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney)

Funerals get great coverage in literature. Especially at the end of epic stories, a funeral is the perfect way to allow readers to mourn and say goodbye to the heroes with whom they have spent hundreds of pages and countless reading hours. In literature, a funeral is a transition, making it a little bit easier for the reader to re-enter the mundane world.

Funerals in reality are not so different. They are ceremonies to help us with the difficult act of saying goodbye to a loved one, and ensuring that we don’t have to do it alone and unsupported. As important as funerals and memorial services are, they deserve just as much thought and discussion as any other important ceremony.

In estate planning, discussion of memorial ceremonies often goes along with the discussion of end-of-life decisions. Most lawyers will ask if you want to include in your Health Care Directive your instructions for the disposition of your remains. This sometimes comes as a shock to clients, many of whom may never have thought about the subject before. But giving your loved ones some kind of guidance as regards your funeral or memorial service can be a great gift, and will ease their burden in a time of sorrow, and help bring peace and closure to the people who love you most.