How To Find Joy At the End of Life, Even While Planning a Funeral

Consider this fact of life: How much effort do we often put into planning for vacations, weddings and sometimes our retirement, but how often do we plan for the nitty-gritty practical details of planning a funeral or planning for death? The inevitable is inevitable isn’t it?

We may consider issues such as wills and estate planning or cremation or burial. But how often do we communicate and document our lives and what is to happen to all that information when we die?

The reality is that we don’t do it often. When faced with the sudden or even anticipated death of a loved one, we’re all struck by how little one knows about what is wanted for a final send off. We can be utterly unprepared as a family to deal with the practical details that goes far beyond one’s last will and testament.

My friend recently lost her two-year courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. She was a nurse and her diagnosis was met with a response of the realization that her life was probably going to be cut very short. Yet, she had every intention of fighting this disease to the end while squeezing every precious moment out of day-to day living. At the same time she planned for death.

My friend tackled her impending death as she had tackled her life – embracing the challenges head on. Her recently engaged daughter sped up her wedding date so that mom could share the joy of planning and seeing her daughter married.

My friend made a bucket list and set out to check off items on the list of family adventures she intended to enjoy while she still could. 

She also planned her own funeral, an event that happened two years after her initial diagnosis.

There were tears of sorrow mixed with tears of joy as we sat and listened to the talented vocalist belt out a heart wrenching rendition of Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” – sending goose bumps rippling through the church filled pews. We were all stunned. She had planned this for us. Special songs sung by a friend who played his guitar, poems and funny stories shared by her adult children, and precious memories spoken by a best friend were shared that day. We were all meant to be her best friends that day. We were all made to feel that we each played a special part in the last chapter of her life story. 

The sun shone in the bright blue sky that day as we exited the church, leaving us all to wonder if she had somehow planned that too.

This article was posted in "Inspirational Stories for Architects of Change" on Maria Shriver's website at

This article was also featured on Huffington Post.