Although everyone dies, hardly anyone likes to address death, much less their own approaching funeral. But it can be very liberating, experts say.
Death is largely a taboo topic in many countries, Germany among them, notes Barbara Till, a funeral director based in Berlin.While openness about it has grown somewhat in recent years, she says, it remains fraught. "It tends to be pushed aside."
"Some people don't want to talk about it," agrees Stefanie Schardien, a Lutheran pastor in Bavaria. There are various reasons for this, she says, one of which is the irrational fear that talking about it will hasten its arrival.
Some people do deal with it, however, and write down their wishes regarding their funeral, and whether they want to be buried or cremated.
This relieves their bereaved surviving relatives of the burden and added stress of having to make these decisions themselves.
Simply strolling through a cemetery can give you ideas of how you might like to be laid to rest, Schardien says: "It's a matter of letting the thoughts come to you."
It's still not normal practice to talk casually with friends about one's own demise, irrespective of age, says Anne Kriesel, who operates an online platform called Bohana, which gives information and tips on bereavement, options for final disposition of the corpse, and how to make provision for death.
Till organises provision "parties" at which people can talk about death with family members and/or friends in a relaxed atmosphere.
She stands by to offer expert advice. The topics are varied, ranging from burial options to which legal authorisations are wise.
"The real dramas occur mainly when nothing has been sorted out and pre-arranged," says Till. For example, when a member of an unmarried couple dies and the parents of the deceased, who perhaps haven't had a close relationship with their child for years, are suddenly responsible for making funeral decisions.
Most people make no preparations for their death at all, remarks Kriesel. So when their time comes, she says, their loved ones end up sitting beside a funeral director not even knowing whether their dearly departed wanted to be buried or cremated.
It's therefore a good idea to leave written instructions on your funeral wishes and whether, for example, you want your body to be cremated, buried in a cemetery or at sea, or donated to science.
Kriesel recommends keeping an "emergency" binder with the most important documents, for instance your will, a custody directive if applicable, appointment of a health care representative in case you're unable to make such decisions for yourself, an advance health care directive, a funeral plan and a bank mandate, along with various copies.
You can also arrange to leave your loved ones mementos, be they letters, photographs, books, cuddly toys or the family's favourite recipes. It's best to attach a short personal note.
Everything doesn't have to be perfectly planned, and no one should feel obligated to plan ahead, reassures Schardien: "You can have a beautiful and dignified burial even if nothing was prepared in advance."
But addressing your inevitable death before it comes knocking – on this all three women agree – enriches your life,"because," as Till says,"you enjoy it differently when you realise how precious it is." – dpa