Plan Death Like a Wedding

When my husband realized he had only a few months to live he told me he thought we should plan his death like a wedding because it was just as important. Yes, I was surprised. It was 2008. I hadn’t considered planning death, and it seemed radical to plan death like a wedding. I thought we would just let it roll and I would somehow cope. But he had a vision for what he wanted, and I soon realized it was based on the way his dad died.

Billie Best and her husband a year before he began to plan his death like a wedding

My father-in-law refused to plan his death or acknowledge that he was dying, even when he was in hospice. That refusal left the family leaderless, and instead of focusing on the profound aspects of the experience, they got all tangled up in feuding over the details, like yellow roses or white? Should he be buried wearing his Army dog tags and his rings, or not? Which pair of cowboy boots should he wear? Who got to ride in the limousine? It all seems petty now, but at the time these were the issues that gripped my mother-in-law and her family in all-out war over who was in charge of this event. Instead of Bridezilla, think Widowzilla. And she wasn’t even a widow yet.

When my husband got the diagnosis of terminal cancer, the first thing he said was, I’m not going to die the way my father did, and he began to plan his death. He was a musician and he understood death as his final performance. He enrolled himself in hospice and met with a palliative care physician. Then he announced I was forbidden to dial 911, no matter what happened. Then he told me he wanted his body to be kept wherever he died for 24 hours, not moved, and handled only by people who loved him, me and his friends. He wanted to be wrapped in white linen for cremation, as he imagined Ghandi may have been. Thankfully not in his purple spandex stage pants. And he wanted his ashes spread on our farm.

That was eleven years ago, and today I see how fortunate I was to be caring for a man who wanted to plan his death as a ceremonial event like a wedding. He was the leader of the process, he was conscious of his impact on the living, and he was curious. He died quietly on a bed in our livingroom and the next day I invited friends to come visit him. They brought flowers, gathered around his body, told stories and listened to music. It was just how he wanted it to be.

Now I’m thinking ahead for myself, considering my age and the unpredictability of life, and I want to plan my death like a wedding, too. I want the gathering of friends, the flowers, the stories and the music. You’re invited. I hope together we can create a serene experience that celebrates the flow of life, the reunion of death and our unbroken bond to Nature. And, one more thing. I would like people to laugh. Laughing at all that has transpired here is key to finding peace. I’ll be listening from somewhere, and I’d like to hear your laughter. Thanks.

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Read more about “Death by Design” here.

Read “Why Millennials are the “death positive” generation”

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15 thoughts on “Plan Death Like a Wedding

  1. I can hear your laugh, Bil. Like it was yesterday, peeling out across the room. What Chet (and you) pulled off was extra-ordinary in the true sense of the word. I’ve sort of planned my demise. Sort of. I’d love to be poked out onto Jamaica Pond in a canoe, ablaze and swallowed by the water. Fireworks above. Tears and boozy laughter. Alas, impossible and would be cut short by swirling red and blue cop lights.
    Love ya, Bil Love you both.
    r

    1. Cool plan, Rick. Maybe you could do it on the Ganges, but I don’t think they allow blazing canoes in Jamaica Pond. Perhaps you have a friend with a swimming pool. Yes. Tears and boozy laughter forever. xo P.S. “Blazing Canoes” could be your next one man show.

  2. I loved reading this today. I’m sorry I missed the opportunity to help while you and Chet were in transition. I’m equally glad/honored/grateful etc that you called ME to help you with the aftermath of downsizing the farm.
    Walking through that year with you was profoundly educational and uplifting. I miss you almost daily, and am tearing up as I write this. You are an exceptional role model, (not to be confused with perfect).
    You became and will remain My Sister, therefore I will be honored/grateful to give or receive a preparation for death notice, if such a thing is necessary. Haven’t managed to unclutter much yet, (my death gift to my son is to leave him very little to parse).

    Believe All of This. Breathe

  3. You must have read my mind! Just today I was thinking about what music I would like played at my funeral even though I am only (only) 68 years old and healthy. Your blog will inspire me to continue thinking and planning. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Thanks for reading my piece, Susan. Yes, you are healthy. I think it is a sign of good mental health to ponder the inevitable and think through our options.

  4. Years ago I told my children I do not want a funeral. Want them to sit around the kitchen table talking and laughing about the wonderful times we had. Ten years ago ago we unexpectedly lost our wonderful son, Mark. H
    e was only 49. His passing was devastating to all. There were 800 people at his memorial service that was held in an auditorium. I never want my family to ever have to go through that again. I will be 80 in a few days. I have not changed my mind.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Joanne. You are way ahead of most people in thinking through your desires and sharing them with your family. A good role model.

  5. Still miss Chet like it was yesterday, even though he could beat me 9 out of 10 games of pool. Remember so many weekends of Mo crafting the buzz as we moved from mimosas to black and tans to wine to cognac with a few sprinkles of weed and amazing food thrown in, Buena Vista Social Club and Keef’s first solo album playing above the table and so much other good music. The days flew like life does sometimes. I always needed a day or two to recoop, but , shit, it was fun. I think I really miss most the conversations around your kitchen table in Malden.

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