This New Year, I’m trying something new. When it comes to setting goals and looking ahead, I will be making funeral plans.
The big idea is to make this an annual part of setting New Year’s resolutions. I plan to revisit my funeral preferences next year and make updates as needed if I’m still here.
I just turned 35 years old.
I’m not doing this because I’m dying. In fact, all of my doctors expect good health and long life for me, despite a genetic condition that raises my cancer risk called Lynch syndrome. I’ve been declared “cured” of colorectal cancer. In fact, in 2019, I’ll mark 18 years since my initial diagnosis at age 17.
I’m in good shape and good health now, but I still retain something of the mindset cancer introduced me to all those years ago. The “life doesn’t last forever” wake-up call isn’t something you ever forget. The chronic side effects from cancer treatment are also an unfortunate, constant reminder. I long for a day without pain and discomfort.
But here’s what I consider a positive side effect: Processing cancer’s highs and lows has made me willing to think about the end of my life. Not because I want to die, but because I’m not scared of dying. And I want to be prepared.
So, I’ve got life insurance lined up. (Fortunately, my dad bought me a policy before I was diagnosed with cancer.) Although we’ve not purchased plots, my husband and I have a cemetery in mind, and I have some ideas about funeral arrangements.
Here’s my funeral plan
Location: I’m flexible -- Either a funeral home or church is fine by me, as long as they’re OK with the music I want. (See below.)
Obituary: Is it weird I want to write it myself? I’ll keep thinking on that for now.
Music: There are two must-have songs. One: It is Well, an old hymn that points to the peace and hope that my faith brings as I think about death. Two: Arise and Be Comforted by Watermark. In any other circumstance, I’d want my husband to sing and play guitar, but I don’t mind if someone else steps in (assuming he outlives me). For the playlist during visitation, please include pop songs I love -- Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and 90s hip-hop with family-friendly lyrics.
Readings and eulogy: The Serenity Prayer, Psalm 23 and Galatians 5:1. You also have full permission to scour my journals; I’ve got good funeral-worthy writing in them. I’m open to who gives a eulogy… just make sure they’re as funny as George W. Bush. Just kidding. But didn’t he do a great job after his dad passed?
Flowers and donations: Let’s go for bright colors. Some of my favorites are sunflowers, hydrangeas, and ranunculus. Donations? Please send them to Fight Colorectal Cancer and/or support a missionary.
Funeral meal: I really hope someone serves up a massive taco bar. Just about everyone likes a fiesta, especially my husband, and you can’t go wrong with tacos. Also -- get a white cake with sprinkles and some bowls of peanut M&Ms. It will be like I never left.
Why plan now?
Most other 30-somethings are making plans to vacation, upgrade their houses, and save for kids’ college. And while I’m thinking about those things too, I’m also realistic about what the past 18 years of surviving cancer has taught me.
I’m not going to live forever. There’s an amazing peace that comes from accepting death as a beautiful part of life. And if I want margaritas served at my funeral – and I do -- I should probably tell someone now.
Danielle Ripley-Burgess is a two-time colorectal cancer survivor who writes about cancer survivorship, faith, and family at DanielleRipleyBurgess.com. Find her on social media at @DanielleisB. This guest column appears through our partnership with Inspire, an Arlington, Va., company with condition-specific online support communities for more than a million patients and caregivers.