A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Planning for My Future

by Anne Kerrigan

Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.

Matthew 25:13

The writing group I attend at The Cenacle Retreat House every other week started about ten years ago with a group of about eight women. The purpose of the group was to encourage each of us to write more often and to grow as writers because of the loving critique of the group. Over the course of the years, in addition to honing our writing skills, we have come to know one another more deeply, and so we have become friends and spiritual companions. The group has become a treasure for each of us.

We start our meetings with a prayer and then chat a bit before we start reading our essays to each other. In the course of this casual conversation, it had become very clear that we have been attending more funerals than weddings, especially since we are all clearly over the age of thirty-nine, using a bit of literary licence here!

There were many and varied comments about the multitudinous funerals we had attended. Generally, we all agreed that some of the readings, the music, and even some of the gospel readings were not particularly to our liking. They were not what we would have chosen for ourselves. Then again, we all agreed that some of the music and readings were wonderful and touched our hearts. So, after some debate, and even a few laughs, we decided that we should plan our own funerals at one of our get-togethers. We decided that we wanted to choose the music and readings which were significant to us.

We started with a prayer, asking the Lord for wisdom as we moved forward. It turned out that one of the women, who had been absent from our original planning meeting, had already organised her funeral liturgy along with her husband. That was fortunate, because her husband died very suddenly some months ago. She said it was a gift that the planning had been done because it would have been a tremendous emotional strain to plan a funeral in the midst of the sudden shock of loss. Her experience gave us hope and encouragement as we started our project. We were very grateful for her valuable input, based on her own personal experience.

Using the Bible and the music book, each of us narrowed down our personal choices to a precious few. We were on our way! It turned out to be more labour intensive than we had anticipated. As we gathered at the final planning meeting, the operative mood was serious but hopeful. More discussion, more editing, and we were done! Each of us felt very much at peace with our personal plans, and expressed collective feelings of accomplishment.

I felt a very deep sense of the Spirit at work within the group. We had come together as women of faith, aware of the time limits of a life, resolving to be more fully prepared for the inevitable. Each of us has had our fair share of personal loss, so the reality of death was up front and centre. This exercise of planning my own funeral liturgy certainly helped me to internalise more fully the human limitations of time.

I also came to understand how my friend was grateful that her planning had been done when her husband died so suddenly. I cannot imagine trying to plan a meaningful liturgy under the pressure of such personal pain, especially since my own experience of planning family funerals had been with the gift of ample time in which to prepare. Surprisingly, rather than it being a morbid event, the entire experience was one of deep spirituality as well as one of personal bonding with the wonderful women in my writing group.

I am very glad that my funeral liturgy has been completed. The introspection and the hard work resulted in a great sense of personal accomplishment. I want my funeral liturgy to say something to those present about my faith, my belief in the resurrection, and my feelings of joy about reuniting with my loved ones and of finally meeting God face to face. I think my preparations have helped me to do that and it brings me much satisfaction. I will leave the instructions for my funeral liturgy with my other important ‘final’ documents. My lamp is lit and I am waiting at the door.  

Be dressed in readiness and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Happy those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.

Luke, 12:35-36.

As a doe longs for running streams, so longs my soul for you, my God.

My soul thirsts for God, the God of life; when shall I go to see the face of God?

Psalm 42:1-2

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