Commentary

April 26, 2013

The difficult discussion

Todd Rose
Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (AFNS) – Death is a subject that all too often no one wants to talk about until there is no option. Usually we only discuss it when confronted with death due to the loss of a family member, friend or co-worker.

We are a unique group of people here. We face death each time we walk through the doors of the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs in order to fulfill this sacred mission. Yet, we are just as guilty of not talking about death with our own families.

During the last 19 years, I have seen too many families anguish or argue over decisions they have to make in remembering and honoring their loved one, because discussing death seems taboo prior to the actual event. Whether it is the type of casket, the best burial location or who to officiate the service, the list goes on and on. These decisions and the anxiety they can cause affects families in the military and in the private sector equally.

To ease this burden, the 2005 National Defense Authorization Act instituted the capability for military members to designate an individual on their virtual Record of Emergency Data, or Department of Defense Form 93, to serve as the person authorized to direct disposition of their remains if necessary. The authority afforded in this designation encompasses all decisions in the care of the deceased, such as what clothing will be worn; where or when the services will be held; what funeral home will hold the services; who will officiate; if the deceased will be cremated; where the burial or inurnment will be effected and if military funeral honors will be rendered.

Today, the person selected can be anyone the member wishes, regardless of their relationship. Because of the significance of this decision and the authority it conveys, great consideration should be taken to ensure you have ultimate faith and confidence in the person you’ve chosen. Moreover, it is imperative that you advise your family about your decision; preferably in writing.

I have seen many spouses shocked to learn that a parent, brother, sister or even friend was designated as the PADD for their husband or wife. Imagine how difficult it is for a service mortuary representative to have to advise a parent that their son or daughter designated the “other parent” as the PADD, and that they have no decision authority regarding the arrangements and final disposition of their son or daughter.

The missing link today may be the communication between you and your family members in expressing your wishes. Death is a subject that cannot be ignored; it affects all of us. However, we can minimize the impact to our families by getting our affairs in order.

My greatest suggestion to you, whether you wear the uniform or not: update your will or have one created that expresses your specific wishes. In addition to your will, sit down and write out your desires for your funeral services. Decide whether or not you wish to be cremated. Identify where you wish your casket to be buried or urn to be inurned. You can even specify details of what music to play at your memorial service, if you want a special food or drink to be served or have written letters to distribute to loved ones. These choices and more are yours — unless you ignore them.

If you’re currently serving in the military or are a veteran, express your wishes regarding military funeral honors and whether you wish to have your casket draped with a flag. These are things we see every day in this business, but have you spoken with your family to let them know what your wishes are should you die? If not, I encourage you to do so!

After you have accomplished these things, I encourage you to ask your family members about their wishes in the event of their death. I would also urge you to encourage your friends and co-workers to have the same discussions with their family members. I know this is a difficult discussion to have, but the benefit to your family in doing so, should you die unexpectedly, will be the gift of comfort and peace of mind in knowing your express wishes were carried out. This will also serve to mitigate any potential disputes among family members, who may have different opinions about what should be done with your remains and your estate.

However unique we may think we are in dealing with death, or impervious we are to it, you must ask yourself: “Have I prepared enough to minimize the impact of my death on those who mean the most to me?” If not, do so now without delay.




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(U.S. Air Force Illustration by Airman 1st Class Cheyenne Morigeau)

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