Let Your Last Wishes Be Known

Evelyn Rose was my mother.  She was a devout Catholic born at the turn of the twentieth-century.

She never questioned dogma, doctrine or the infallibility of the pope.  She believed we were put here on earth by God for a short time and that our life was a test of our choices about good and evil.  How well we did in our earthly trials determined our fate in the afterlife.  She believed, with all of her heart, that the greatest peace and happiness one could ever imagine would be seeing the face of the Creator and reuniting with her loved ones who went before her.

Evelyn did her best to live and die by the Golden Rule.  Even though she didn’t have a Living Will or even a Last Will and Testament, she made it known around our kitchen table that she did not want any extraordinary means to keep her alive if she couldn’t speak for herself, or if it were determined there was nothing more doctors could do for her.  As a child, I listened intently to her wishes.  I knew these conversations were critical to her peace of mind and would need to be respected in the end.

For many years, the Catechism of the Catholic Church banned cremation.  It was considered disrespectful to the deceased. In 1963, the Vatican lifted the ban, allowing Catholics to be cremated.  However, the remains could not to be placed at the altar during the funeral Mass.

Fourteen years later, this changed too.  In 1977 the remains could be present at the funeral Mass.  Today, there are two restrictions: the remains must be buried, not kept on a shelf, and the ashes cannot be scattered.  [1] Evelyn, being on top of the latest news from the Vatican, decided to add her wish to be cremated to her family’s round-table conversations.  Her decision was based on two things:  the Church’s blessing, of course; and the fact that the earth is running out of space.

“Coffins take up a too much of our earth,” she said with conviction.

Evelyn was hospitalized in 1999.  She was 92 and suffering from an aortic aneurysm. The prognosis was grim.  We spoke with her doctor and discussed her end-of-life requests and pain medication options to help alleviate her final agony.   Two days later, Evelyn died peacefully.   She depended on us to carry out her wishes.  We did.

Conversations about life, death and last wishes are never easy.   It’s tough to let go.  I think Evelyn was trying to help us understand that the afterlife was the final reward; we need not be afraid to talk about death and dying.

I have had these same conversations with my husband, children and other close family members.

My Living Will is to grant them peace.


[1] http://www.aboutcatholics.com/ by Jon Jakoblich.

Yvonne Lancaster

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Born in Worcester, MA, Yvonne is a former newspaper columnist and is the recipient of numerous writing awards from United Press International, Massachusetts Press Association and New England Press Association for her column From the Heart. Currently, she writes short stories, poetry and is a still life painter. She is co-author of Every Step of the Way: How Four Mother’s Coped with Child Loss (2006) and From the Heart, Sketches from Life (1985). She was named Woman of the Year by the Business and Professional Women of America. She is currently working on her first novel. Her website is http://www.yvonnelancaster.com.

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