PREPARING FOR DEATH: A Resource Guide
Dealing with Death
Although death is a part of human experience, many of us prefer not to think or talk about it. Eventually we will face the death of a family member or friend and sooner or later face our own death.
Because death is a mystery, many prefer to deny it. However, a biblical faith helps us face the reality of death squarely. We die and our bodies return to the earth. But God, by the mighty and mysterious act of resurrection, recreates us for fellowship in the Divine Love. Resurrection is the ultimate act of God’s care. So, the New Testament can declare, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (I Corinthians 15:54).
Although Christian faith does not resolve all our anxieties about death, faith is a resource to help us embrace death with hope. The faith community can also provide understanding and invaluable support as we face the losses death brings.
This booklet was prepared by a committee of the Nurture and Deacon commissions to provide information and to encourage planning as a way of preparing us to deal with death. Spending time now making decisions and sharing those decisions with people close to us can bring a sense of peace and will make it much easier to finalize plans when the time of death comes.
As a faith community, we seek to express God’s healing and hope to one another during times of grief and loss. We extend our support tangibly by offering inexpensive boxes for cremains and funeral meals.
First Mennonite Church provides resources to its members and regular attenders as they face end-of-life questions and make plans for their eventual death. By early planning, members can make rational choices without the pressures of grief or sorrow at the time of death. Early planning also allows discussion of plans with family and friends so that they are prepared to carry out the wishes of the deceased.
- Pre-planning. Individuals are invited to share with one of the pastors their thoughts and feelings about death and their wishes regarding funeral plans. These suggestions can be placed in one’s membership file. They can always be changed or adapted. Many persons have found a sense of relief and freedom in such prior planning. pp. 30-31
- When a serious illness or death occurs, call a pastor. The pastor is prepared to represent the faith community and help mobilize the resources of the congregation in appropriate ways. For many people the Sunday school class and/or small group become significant care resources at the time of serious illness or death.
- The church is prepared to help plan a funeral or memorial service. This service is a time for appropriate remembrance and celebration of the person’s life and opportunity for the community to reach out to God in a service of worship. “In a funeral or memorial service, we seek the presence of God in our grieving and give thanks for the life of the person who has died. God’s grace is the center and circumference of the service. This comes to expression in the singing of hymns, prayer, Scripture reading, and preaching. An obituary and other reflections on the person’s life should be included in this spirit.” (Minister’s Manual edited by John Rempel pg.186) The pastor will help plan and will arrange for contacting persons the family wishes to have participate. Although a number of factors (namely travel arrangements for family members living at a distance) will influence the timing of the funeral or memorial service, this service is often held close to the time of death to allow the grieving community an opportunity to express their care for the family and provide a time to remember the loss of life as a community.
- Specific help and other resources offered by the church and available to families may include:
- Someone to go with the family to the funeral home to help with decisions regarding the selection of services needed.
- Boxes for Cremains. The construction of simple wooden boxes is a ministry of love and support available to members and minor children, who are not yet members, of First Mennonite Church. The work of construction is done by individuals who volunteer their services. Boxes for cremains are available for a donation of $50.00.
- Visitation at the church with church members assisting.
- Gathering around the table nourishes both body and soul. Eating together is an important part of healing in the grieving process. First Mennonite Church provides a meal or refreshments for family and friends following a service of worship. We ask the family for whom the meal is prepared to pay $2 per person attending the meal to help cover the cost of expenses. ($1.50/person for light refreshments)
- Members of First Mennonite Church have free access to burial plots in Ebenezer Cemetery.
- Grief support and special needs groups.
- Resources in the church library on coping with serious illness, dying, death and grief (also see the bibliography at the end of this booklet).
- Referral to people or agencies who have expertise in areas of particular needs.
All of life, including our final days and our death, is a gift of God. As a church we encourage members to live graciously and generously with the blessings God has bestowed. Our decisions concerning death are part of our life stewardship.
- Plan to minimize your funeral costs. Funeral directors are prepared to offer a wide range of services and products from the simple and inexpensive to the more deluxe and expensive. Traditionally, Mennonites have been modest in their values and have opted for a less expensive service and casket. Visit a funeral director now and ask for a range of services and the price of each service. Keep in mind that First Mennonite Church offers some services, such as a box for ashes, outlined in the previous section. With your spouse, family members, or other trusted friends, select the services in the price range that reflect your values.
- Have an up-to-date will. A will has been called the “crowning act of Christian stewardship.” Unless one leaves a will, the state will decide how one’s possessions should be distributed and how one’s loved ones should be cared for. Decide how much your children need. Decide how much to designate to the work of the church. Choose a competent executor to settle your estate. Select a guardian to provide a good Christian home for minor children. Seek the services of an attorney to document your wishes in the necessary legal language.Some may wish to discuss with an attorney the possible benefits of a living trust as an alternative to a will. Depending upon the value of one’s estate and/or the kinds of assets held, the living trust may offer significant advantages. Because a trust need not go through probate court, reduction or elimination of probate expenses and greater privacy may be to your advantage.
- Let your family know where everything is. A carefully written will is of no value unless it can be found. Prepare a memorandum to your survivors stating the location of your will, insurance policies, tax returns, safe deposit boxes and keys, burial lots, stock certificates and deeds. Outline funeral and burial wishes. Sign and date the memorandum and give copies to your children or other family members. Instructions should be reviewed at least every three to five years or whenever there are major changes in one’s life. The pastors are available for consultation in this process.
- Consider the implications of joint ownership. Most spouses/partners own property in joint tenancy, with rights of survivorship. In these cases, upon the death of a spouse, the house or bank account passes automatically to the survivor. But joint ownership is not without its problems. Estate taxes may be higher. Joint ownership is not a substitute for a will. The larger one’s estate, the more one needs to consider other kinds of ownership, such as individual ownership, tenancy in common or revocable trusts. Check this out with an attorney or an estate planner. Everence can offer resources that include faith, values, and financial considerations.
- Estimate your estate’s potential “death tax.” Your estate may be larger than you realize. List all your assets based on present fair market value. At death the federal and the state governments impose an estate tax. The larger your estate, the more you may need careful estate planning to minimize these taxes. Consult an attorney or tax accountant.
- Consider how your funeral will be paid for. Estimate the cost of the funeral and burial arrangements you desire. Consult with an attorney about advantages and disadvantages of payment plans.
- Be sure the estate has adequate liquidity. An executor will need enough cash to pay taxes and administration costs of settling the estate. Allow for adequate cash in savings accounts or readily marketable investments. Life insurance is another way to provide liquidity.
- Project your need for life insurance. Financial protection is the principal function of life insurance. People who have lived long enough to accumulate an estate may not need life insurance. Younger people with substantial family needs may need some protection. Purchase only as much coverage as you need. Investigate the usefulness of lower cost term insurance rather than whole life.
- Investigate survivors’ benefits from Social Security. If you are covered under Social Security at your death, cash benefits may be available to your surviving spouse and children. However, there are certain qualifications. Check with a Social Security office to determine how much your survivors can count on.
- Check your pension plan death benefits. The primary purpose of a pension plan is to provide continuing retirement benefits. Some plans include death benefits so that if one dies before retirement, the plan makes payments to designated beneficiaries. Investigate the provisions of your pension plan.
- Consider Advance Directives (see pages 12-15). Advance directives are written statements that express your preference and wishes about health care decisions (especially end-of-life care) when you can no longer speak for yourself. There are three major types of advance directives:
- A Living Will
- Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare (DPAHC)
- Ohio DO NOT Resuscitate-Comfort Care (DNRCC) or Comfort Care Arrest (DNRCC-A)
- Transfer some assets during your lifetime. Consider giving some of your things to children, heirs, or other recipients now. Consider transferring some assets to church causes, either as outright contributions or into plans that provide lifetime income. There may be significant tax advantages. Gifts can include: cash, land, stocks or bonds, or treasured possessions. Consider designating some of your treasured possessions to children or other heirs so that at the time of death your wishes are known.
- Counsel for transfer of assets. In addition to your attorney and accountant, the Mennonite Foundation, 1110 North Main Street, Goshen, Indiana, (574-533-9511) is a source of guidance and counsel. The Foundation is particularly interested in helping Mennonites become faithful stewards of accumulated possessions. Older persons should inquire about charitable trust arrangements or about including your favorite church charities with a bequest. Such a gift is a marvelous way to carry out the biblical plan of Jubilee–the redistribution of resources for the work of the church at the close of life.
- Burial plots. (See page 19)
- Memorial funds. Memorial funds are a way of supporting charitable causes you believe in deeply. Further, a memorial fund is a tangible way for friends to show their support. Include memorial instructions on the pre-arrangement sheet filed with the funeral director and in the church office.
At any age it is important to remember that although we are mentally or physically capacitated today, there may be a time or circumstances in which we are not able to make decisions for ourselves. For instance, a serious accident or medical event may leave us temporarily or permanently unable to understand complex health information or to articulate our wishes. Advance Directives give adults over the age of 18 the ability to determine in advance how they would wish their healthcare to be provided in the future and/or to designate the person they would want to speak on their behalf. It is not contrary to Mennonite or Christian belief to state one’s wishes for end-of-life care in the form of advance directives. The three major directives serve specific functions and may be used by healthcare providers under differing circumstances.
Sample forms of the three major advance directives (or website addresses where they can be found) are enclosed in this booklet. Periodically review your advance directives to ensure that they express your present wishes and include up-to-date information.
1a. Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare (DPAHC): Assigning a DPAHC is a wise move. This document names a person whom you would want to speak for you, only in the event that you are temporarily or permanently unable to communicate, unconscious, or unable to make sound judgments or decisions related to healthcare. Your physician will determine if you are incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. You do not have to have a terminal or incurable disease or be near death. The person you designate does not have to be related to you and it is recommended that you consult with any person you choose before designating them as your DPAHC. It is important that you choose someone who is familiar with you and your wishes and feels able to assume this responsibility. Your DPAHC is only empowered to make healthcare decisions on your behalf (not to transact other business affairs). In the event that you do not name a DPAHC and cannot make healthcare decisions, Ohio law stipulates that decisions may be made by your next-of-kin (as they exist or are available) in the following order: a legal guardian, spouse, adult children, adult siblings, parents, or other adult relatives. Executing a DPAHC does not require an attorney or notary, and may be witnessed by two adults (neither may be your attending physician, the administrator of a long-term health facility where you reside, or related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption). No one may execute a DPAHC on your behalf.
1b. Living Will: A living will is an instrument that expresses one’s wishes for health care under certain circumstances. Under Ohio law a living will may be invoked if and when you have been determined by two or more physicians to be in a terminal condition, have been admitted to the hospital for 48 hours or longer, and are considered to be permanently unable to speak for yourself. While Ohio law is rather restrictive concerning the conditions for invoking a living will, your statement of intent can be very helpful to your physician(s) and family. A living will also offers the opportunity to state your wishes concerning artificial nutrition and/or hydration at the end-of-life. Executing a living will does not require an attorney or notary, and may be witnessed by two adults (neither may be your attending physician, the administrator of a long-term health care facility where you reside, or related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption). No one may execute a living will on your behalf.
1c. Ohio DNR Comfort Care: In order to serve people who do not meet the restrictive criteria for invoking a living will, yet who may have a terminal or life threatening condition, or who are nearing end-of-life, and are still able to speak for themselves, Ohio established the Ohio DNR Comfort Care law. This law allows people to forego heroic procedures which would prolong your dying process, rather than prolong your life. DNR means “do not resuscitate” and gives nursing homes, emergency medical personnel, or hospital personnel permission to forego cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which includes chest compressions, electric shocks or mechanical ventilation in the event that your heart should stop or that you stop breathing. However, healthcare personnel must take all steps necessary to provide physical and emotional comfort (such as comfortable positioning, clearing the airway, use of oxygen, or providing pain medications). There are two options available through the Ohio DNR: Comfort Care is typically used by persons who are electing to forego active or curative treatment for their condition and wish only to be kept comfortable throughout the end-of-life; Comfort Care Arrest is chosen by persons who wish to continue active or curative treatment up until such time that they may experience cardiac or pulmonary arrest. This is a standardized document executed in consultation with your physician and MUST be signed by a physician. It does not require an attorney or notary. If you have an Ohio DNR it is wise to keep a wallet card for identification. [www.odh.state.oh.us/ODHPrograms/DNR/dnr1.htm]
- Any advance directive may be revoked at any time by so stating orally or in writing. All revoked copies of your advance directives should be destroyed and notice of your revocation given to persons who hold copies. In the event that you execute new written directives, you should distribute these new instructions to all who hold copies.
- Copies of your advance directives should be given to family members, the church office, one’s physician, hospital, and attorney. (Remember, the “safest place” may not be accessible to healthcare personnel or your family in the event of a medical emergency. Your wishes cannot be followed if they are “safely” stored in a file and no one knows that they exist!) Hospitals are mandated to inquire about the existence of your advance directives, and they have varying policies regarding filing of advance directives. Blanchard Valley Regional Health Center (Bluffton and Findlay campuses) will accept copies of your advance directives and store them for retrieval if you are admitted as an inpatient. At many hospitals a copy must be presented upon admission to the facility. Nursing homes are also required to ask about advance directives when you are admitted and will maintain copies in order to honor your wishes. It is wise to carry a wallet card indicating the existence of one’s advance directives, in case of illness or accident in another locality.
- If a physician refuses to abide by your duly executed advance directives, you or your spokesperson should request a consultation of the hospital ethics committee (if you are an inpatient), request another physician, or seek legal advice. Physicians must follow the laws of the state in which they practice and may only invoke advance directives as allowed by law and accepted medical standards of practice. Often a patient’s medical situation does not allow for their advance directive to be invoked, thus creating a potential conflict or impairment of physician-patient communication. It is important to attempt to clarify these medical and legal issues.
- The church office will refer you to members with expertise in these matters if you have questions.