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Planning A Good Death: A Samhain Process

Author: Rev. Rose Wise
Posted: October 31st. 2010
Times Viewed: 4,662

While much of the conventional culture around us fears and avoids the topic of death, most Wiccans and other Pagans see death as a natural and positive part of the circle of life. As soon as we are born we are dying: this is the reality of our life in this temporary suit of flesh and bones. Most of us believe that the spirit goes on in reincarnation or some other form.

But while we may see death as a natural part of life many of us have not faced our own mortality and the ethical and practical challenges it presents. And even for Wiccans and Pagans there is often a gap between what we think and rationally believe and what we feel, especially around the topic of death. This leads many of us to delay and avoid planning for our own death. But by not facing the issue and planning we are avoiding personal responsibility, another major tenet of most Pagan faiths. And not only that, most people, Pagan or not, who do not plan abandon their responsibilities thus causing hardship to the ones they love most. For a good death we need to face our own mortality and to live our beliefs.

An exercise I have used in my workshops entitled Embracing the Dark involves imagining that you drop dead today. Do you have a will? Who will care for your children or your beloved pets? Will there be enough money to meet survival needs, educational expenses l or other expensive care items that you want for them. Do you care what happens to your physical remains? Do you know what type of funeral or memorial you would like? Are your preferences and desires written down and shared with someone? And again and again there is the question of money to be addressed for most of us.

Some questions may be especially important to us who follow Pagan ways. Do you have a book of Shadows either in conventional form or on your computer that you don’t wish to have your family member or others to have access to? And for many there is the lifelong issue of your path and others knowledge of it. Are you out of the closet as a Witch and, if not, do you want your journals, magickal tools or other clues to inform your family and non Pagan friends now? And who do you want to handle your magickal tools. Will they be left to a designated person or destroyed or buried with you?

For many of us our earth-based path may also point us towards a green burial, or cremation with or without a religious, Pagan service. Green burial is an increasingly popular option; it is a burial without the embalming of the body and many of the other environmentally destructive trappings of a conventional funeral such as fancy hardwood or steel coffins and burial vaults. Legal in most states under most circumstances, green burial often supports acquiring and preservation of ecologically valuable land. Cremation may be another option. It is also better for the for the environment than conventional burial. Who will see to these arrangements and do family members know and support this choice. If you plan this type of disposition of your physical remains you will need to research it ahead; some resources to get you started follow this article.

And what happens if you are in a brain dead, or vegetative state but living. Do you want to be kept alive by artificial means? And which ones are you comfortable with and under what circumstances? At what quality of life would you wish to continue should you be in a more ambiguous state? If circumstances allow would we prefer to die at home? All of these questions need to be considered before the time arrives. And again the persons who will be carrying out your choices need to be very carefully chosen and notified of their role. They should be given plenty of latitude to refuse if they are uncomfortable with the role. If they are willing they should have these documents with back-ups in the lawyers office and /or safety deposit box

A will, a living will and a healthcare directive can address many of these issues. The requirements for these vary from state to state. You can address some; many hospitals and state offices have the forms needed to complete Healthcare Directives, durable power of healthcare directives and supporting documents. Even if you cannot afford legal council you should consider filling these out and making your designee and alternatives aware of the document and in procession of a copy. There should also be back-ups in the lawyer’s office and /or safety deposit box. One problem that often arises is that there is a document but it is not accessible when needed.

A will can also be written by a layperson but if you have dependents or a large estate that may cause disputes you should definitely have the assistance of a lawyer. If you have everything decided and written out ahead of time your legal fees will be greatly reduced. Designating custody arrangement for your children is an area where you should definitely seek legal advice. Another issue is the probate rules and your choice of executor. Many issues and expenses can be avoided, is to have beneficiaries identified for all bank accounts, a due on death registered on vehicles and where there is a trusted person their name added to real estate titles. This can help reduce the high legal costs of probate, which can deeply cut into small estates. Be sure to consult a lawyer or research your own states laws regarding wills and probate procedures.

Life insurance sadly, is most needed by parents of small children, often the very folks who cannot afford it or think they can’t. If this is you and your employer offers it, take as much as you need or can afford keeping in mind that a single parent or guardians will have extra expenses and your desires to provide educational opportunities or health care needs for your children. If your employer does not provide a life insurance program, you can also buy fairly reasonable policies on your own from insurance agent or a membership organization that offers it. Term life for younger people is surprisingly inexpensive especially if you don’t have a health condition at the time of enrollment. It is basically a bet by the insurance company that you won’t die in the coverage period; there’s no saving or cash value attached. While its hard for many of us to accept the concept of betting against our survival to old age, it’s a good way to protect our loved ones in event we die early for any reason.

And don’t forget your beloved companion and familiar animals. I am the Goddess mother of two lovely small dogs. A childless couple, close friends of mine, have left me these wonderful creatures in the event they die at the same time. I am the closest person to the animals and there is a small cash bequest to cover their vet fees, food and other expenses for their lifetime. If you can you may want to make these types of arrangements although I would have taken the dogs without the financial incentive. You may have friends or family who would do the same. If you have no person, you may want to designate a no-kill shelter to receive your animals.

Despite all the stories about people dying from slow deaths that allow a certain amount of planning and decision-making at the time, a certain number of us will not have this luxury. We will die quickly, without time to consider others or even ourselves and the needs of our souls if this is part of our belief system. This should to a good reason to make amends with beloveds we are estranged from, to say I love you and to demonstrate our love each day that we live. I find the saying “live each day as if it were your last” to be especially important for a good death. In my belief system we have a concept of “unquiet dead” and believe that this can keep your spirit earthbound and unhappy. While there are of course those with heavy guilt burdens and karmic debts, most of the unquiet dead are simply people who have unresolved issues with their beloveds.

Samhain gives us a time to make amends to a certain extent, but doing it in the here and now has a much greater reward. Planning for a good death can provide a peace of time and spiritual fulfillment in our life.

Resources on Green Burial:

Grave Matters Mark Harris 2007, Scribner
Caring for the Dead Lisa Carlson 1998, Upper Access Books
Living Into Dying Nancy Jewel Poer 2009, White Feather Publishing
Crossings Caring for Our Own Dead
Green Burial Council
Natural Home Funeral Alliance
Circle Sanctuary
Thresholds of Life- Nora Cedarwind

Copyright: Rev Rose Wise Copyright 2010
Rose Wise is the founder and former High Priestess of Ozark Avalon, A Wiccan church and Land Sanctuary in central Missouri


Rev. Rose Wise

Location: Boonville, MO, Missouri

Bio: Rose Wise is the founder and former High Priestess of Ozark Avalon, A Wiccan church and Land Sanctuary in central Missouri. She has worked as a Hospice nurse and has provided workshops on death and dying issues.. She also d id much of the work in setting up the 14 acre natural bural cemetary at Ozark Avalon

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