A Lenten Gift to Your Family

Mar 17, 2023

This Sunday is Legacy Sunday, when we remember with gratitude those who have made bequests to Incarnation in recent years. These planned gifts help assure the continuing witness and work of God’s kingdom through the church. In the spirit of Legacy Sunday, below is a letter from former parishioner, Anthony Antolini, who serves as Music Director at the Church of St. John Baptist in Thomaston, Maine. 

During Lent it’s tempting to grumble about how long winter will last. But there are some things we can do at this time of year that wouldn’t be better done during the sunnier times of year. One of them is preparing a gift for members of your family – planning ahead for your departure from this earthly realm. This article isn’t about death itself, it’s about how life goes on and how we might meet that fact in a more positive way. It’s possibly a suggestion for a Lenten project that would have long lasting effects.

While waiting for Easter and the arrival of spring, how about spending a little time getting yourself organized as if preparing to take a trip? It doesn’t have to be as grim as it seems if you look at it with the Light of Christ! Here are some ideas to get you started.

There are a number of things you can do about end-of-life issues when there is nothing pressing. Taking care of these things in advance can be a tremendous gift to your loved ones and care givers when the time comes so that your wishes are heeded. Taking care of the future might relieve some stress for you too!

The following list is not exhaustive. It will get you going toward a goal of having thought things through that might be more difficult when you’re unable to take care of them yourself or if you’re no longer with us.

First, fill out a short form that can be on file at the church office with your wishes for a celebration of life, a funeral or memorial service.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the board of directors of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Maine, an advocacy group devoted to providing helpful information to the public about options for end-of-life choices. I grew up in New York City and was a member of the Church of the Incarnation until I went away to college in Maine. I now reside there.

Here are some things you might not know  about end-of-life choices:

  • There are “green” cemeteries that do not require energy-consuming cremation of the body. To learn more about this visit the Green Burial Council.
  • How much you spend on a funeral is not an indication of how much you care.
  • The best way to pay for a funeral may not be through a pre-paid plan.
  • There are few limits on what you can do with ashes, and there are many possibilities. Basically, be discreet and respectful.
  • A vault or grave liner is not required by law.
  • The body does not have to be embalmed.
  • Embalming is not necessary to protect public health.
  • There is a legal alternative to cremation called alkaline hydrolysis or “green cremation.” This process produces the same ashes as regular cremation but reduces the large consumption of energy involved with standard cremation. New York State currently has no laws regarding alkaline hydrolysis. Click here learn more about alkaline hydrolysis laws in various states visit.
  • Metal caskets with sealed gaskets do not keep the body from decomposing.
  • There’s a carpenter in Waterville, Maine, who will teach you how to make your own casket or make one for you. Name and contact information on request.
  • The State of Washington has now approved human composting. The Maine legislature is considering this, as is Massachusetts. It involves an even greener method of disposal of remains (done by an undertaker) but instead of ashes the family receives rich soil that can be used to plant a tree, garden or shrub. Click here for an extensive article about it in the New York Times.

There is also a national office of The Funeral Consumers Alliance. This organization oversees the many state and regional chapters and coordinates information about legislation in the various states. The national published a 30-page workbook entitled Before I Go You Should Know in 2015 and it is available through the website: funerals.org. The workbook is intended to be a place to record everything survivors will need to know to be able to handle your estate. Topics include: Advance Directives, Living Wills, Power of Attorney, Wills, Body Disposition, Obituaries, Death Certificates, Finances, and a list of resources.

The national office has also done a remarkable job of lobbying the Federal Trade Commission to update the so-called “Funeral Rule.” In short, the funeral industry is not required to post prices on the internet because the regulations applying to that industry haven’t been updated in many years. As a result, many funeral homes require clients to visit the funeral home to obtain a price list. During such visits, funeral home representatives can persuade a client to spend more money on the funeral than they expect. One would not shop for any other service without being able to compare prices easily. The FTC has now agreed in a unanimous vote of the commissioners to rewrite the “Funeral Rule” so that comparison shopping online will become mandatory.

There are other tasks that aren’t covered in Before I Go You Should Know. An important one is going through stored family possessions and organizing them. Sturdy storage boxes that have been labeled can provide organization of photographs, family history, correspondence, treasures, and all sorts of things that your survivors might not bother with if these things were not sorted and identified. As you sort through these items, you may learn important things about your family that you never knew! And there’s probably quite a lot of stuff you can happily say good-bye to. Don’t forget the church fair!

Then there are things that you probably need help with, such as legal advice. Before I Go You Should Know cannot substitute for a competent estate-planning attorney, although such specialists will be pleased if you’ve already filled out your workbook before you arrive for your appointment.  An attorney can help you with all the documents that make end-of-life issues go much more smoothly. They include, but are not limited to, an advance healthcare directive, a will, power of attorney and revocable living trusts.

None of this is fun, but you’ll feel so much better after you’ve taken care of such important business.  The Funeral Consumers Alliance of the Finger Lakes has an excellent summary of your legal rights concerning funeral planning in New York State.