Finding The Joy
Patty used to avoid funerals at all costs until her father showed her how rewarding they could be.
No one is ever ready for the death of a loved one, but for Patty Higham, losing her mother unexpectedly when she was 9 years old was especially devastating. Caught unprepared by the tragic accident, the family’s pain was compounded by a messy funeral process that delayed the service for a week.
Instead of being able to comfort his three young children and focus on his own grief, Patty’s father was forced to spend precious time hunting down paperwork and arranging details and finances for the funeral. The entire family suffered as a result.
“When my mother passed away there was just total devastation,” she said. “Nobody knew anything of what was going on or what we were supposed to do. We were just stricken with pain. Sitting and enjoying her life just wasn’t in the picture. I felt like the healing process was so delayed and it was delayed for so many people.”
Patty was just a child then, but the experience stuck with her. For over 30 years she avoided funerals whenever possible and lived in fear of her father’s death. When he passed away in 1995, however, she began to see things in a new light.
Bracing for another logistical ordeal, Patty and her two older brothers met with the funeral home director who explained that their father had prearranged and prefunded his funeral service.
“My brothers and I did know that he had done that, however, we had no idea what that meant,” she said. “We looked at each other and said, ‘But what about all the other things we have to take care of?’ He said ‘you’re done, this is it,’ and we went home and started enjoying our father’s life.”
Instead of sifting through paperwork, discussing funeral details, and making tough financial decisions Patty and her brothers were free to start celebrating their father’s legacy. They were able to begin their healing process with a clean slate.
“We had the whole day to ourselves when we thought the whole day was going to be filled with problems,” she said. “It was really a joy for the three of us to sit and literally laugh and joke about all the good memories we had.”
“I just had a sense of excitement for my kids that there would be nothing left for them to do, except celebrate.”
Patty said the stark difference between her parents’ funerals was eye-opening and allowed her to let go of her fear. She realized that despite the pain of losing a loved one, funerals can be a positive thing when the burden is removed from the grieving family.
“Funerals are not something that you want to stay away from,” she said. “You want to be around those people that you love. It’s a glorious time to appreciate the deceased’s life. It does not have to be how my mother’s was.”
“There’s a huge difference between being preplanned and not being preplanned, and we lived through both.”
Patty’s family life is pretty rewarding these days. The Sacramento, Calif. native is the proud mother of two daughters – one in Nebraska and the other in Washington, D.C. – and has five fun-loving grandchildren. She’s also starting a new chapter in life as a newlywed.
She hasn’t lost any of her passion for preplanning, however. She has already prearranged her own funeral and got her husband, Tom, on board too – though she admits he didn’t have much of a choice.
“I made sure that I was preplanned and that my husband was also preplanned before there was a wedding,” Patty said with a laugh. “I made sure the two of us were taken care of. We really value our children and don’t want them to go through what I went through with my mother’s funeral.”
She said the thought of her out-of-state daughters having to make funeral arrangements on the fly, in an unfamiliar place was reason alone to give them the gift of a preplanned service. The number of questions and decisions that must be resolved leading up to a funeral can be staggering to the unprepared. Patty said she was thrilled that the prearranging process allowed her to take her time and do what was best for herself and her family.
“To get all those questions answered when you’re not dealing with emotion was just amazing to me,” she said. “I was so glad that I did it and that I could do it with a straight mind, in a very peaceful, comfortable situation.”
“After I completed all of my preplanning, I tell you, I felt great. I wanted to actually jump in and do more details. I just had a sense of excitement for my kids that there would be nothing left for them to do, except celebrate.”
When Patty talks to her friends and family about prearranging, she gives them a simple starting point – take the time to sit down and get the information so that you can make an educated decision for yourself. Some people will be ready to start the process right away, while others may need a bit more time to think about their next step. If Patty’s experience has taught her anything though, it’s that preplanning is too important to be put off for “another day.”
“You don’t know when you walk out of the room if it’s going to be too late,” she said. “When it is too late, your children, your loved ones – it’s all now in their lap. This is something that only you can take care of for them.”
When you do take care of your funeral in advance, as Frank did for Patty and her brothers, you give your loved ones the gift of peace and even joy on the day they’ll need and appreciate it most.Tweet
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