Death is 'going to happen,' UNO course urges, so best to plan -
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Death is 'going to happen,' UNO course urges, so best to plan

Sooner or later, we are all going to die.

It's not a popular message, says Julie Masters, chairwoman of the University of Nebraska at Omaha's department of gerontology, but it's a fact. When the day comes, she asks, would you rather leave your loved ones with instructions or more worries that they're doing what you would've wanted?

What: Begin with the End in Mind sessions

Where: College of Public Affairs and Community Service Collaborating Commons on the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Dodge Street campus.

When: 2 to 3 p.m. Friday, writing your own obituary with Paige Toller, associate professor of communication at UNO; 2 to 3 p.m. March 14, planning for a funeral or memorial service with Tom Belford, owner of John A. Gentleman Mortuaries; 2 to 3 p.m. April 11, documenting personal wishes with Helen Chapple, assistant professor at Creighton University's Center for Health Policy and Ethics.

Cost: Free.

Information: To RSVP, call Sara Young, 402-554-2272.

“Either way, it's going to happen,” Masters said. “It's far better that you think about it.”

Starting Friday, UNO is launching a series of free talks that will walk participants through writing their own obituaries, planning funeral services and making decisions about end-of-life care and finances. The talks, called “Begin With the End in Mind,” are intended to be a comfortable setting to discuss, ask questions and make plans that can be shared with spouses and children. It's human nature to avoid talking about our own mortality and typical in Western culture to deny the reality of death, Masters said.

But it can be easier to make these choices when death is not looming.

“Being in an intensive care hospital room and having to try to make a decision about whether to resuscitate or put someone on life support is a much more difficult situation than when folks are feeling good,” Masters said.

Nancy Schlesiger is looking forward to Friday's session about writing her own obituary. It's probably the one part of planning the 58-year-old staffer at UNO hasn't done yet.

By her 50th birthday, her headstone was already engraved, absent only an end date. It has been placed atop her cemetery plot. Arrangements are made with her chosen mortuary.

She is in good health, but she remembers all the little and painful things her family dealt with when her father died young. She doesn't want her children to have to worry about such things, or feel compelled to pick out the most expensive casket as some grand final gesture. She wants simplicity.

Her children think it's a little morbid. Schlesiger concedes maybe it is.

“But if you love your family,” Schlesiger said, “and you know what this is going to leave for them to do, it makes the most sense to give some ideas.”

Every now and then, mortuary owner Tom Belford meets with a family that hasn't discussed anything with their recently departed loved one. The question is always, “What do you think Mom or Dad would've wanted?”

But the experience is much easier for the families when a service has been preplanned, said Belford, owner of John A. Gentleman Mortuaries. Belford will share his tips for pre-planning during the second session in March.

He helped one man who wanted his pickup truck to stand in for the hearse at his funeral. Some people bring quilts they want displayed, choose songs, or leave lists of people they want to serve as pallbearers.

Belford also offers pre-planners the chance to answer 25 questions and surprise the family with their own life story, often bringing a smile on a difficult day.

“Once you do it, it's over,” Belford said. “When your family experiences your death with pre-planning, they'll truly appreciate it.”

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