Nonprofit seeks to equip everyone to be ready for death on legal, medical and faith levels
VANCOUVER — Many people, especially in the U.S., don’t like talking about death.
The subject is, understandably, sensitive and deeply associated with sadness for most. Oftentimes, death is exclusively discussed when it happens near us or too us, but venture outside the country and this is not the case.
Many cultures and nations discuss death in daily, normal life. Heritage of Hope, (HOH) a nonprofit organization based in Vancouver, is hoping to cultivate a more tolerant and prepared culture around death here at home.
“One of the things we do is write letters to the people we leave behind, that we care about,” said Founder Melody Miller. “You get those letters all written, you know, what can I say that nobody else can say to my adult children. Death just becomes a part of life, as it should be.”
HOH began nearly a decade ago to equip adults of any age with the skills and tools to “finish life well.” In other words, they are helping people plan what needs to be done in advance of their own death or the death of a loved one.
It may be surprising, but many family units who experience sudden loss of a parent, sibling or child do not have all the legal and medical boxes checked to make the process a smooth one. Perhaps the biggest component of this, and one that HOH focuses is on, is the making out of a will.
Miller and her husband both dealt with difficult situations with their parents passing, and were spurred on by people at their local church to launch a program to help others avoid such challenges.
“Dad was brilliant,” Miller said of her father. “Nine patents, helped us build the first computers, but dementia takes you out, no matter how brilliant you might have been previously, and add a little paranoia: all of his kids were after his money. Which was very far from the truth.”
Miller went on to explain how the HOH course, which is often done in groups of people, helps anyone understand the importance of a will, the differences between a will and trust and also the importance of a properly prepared advanced directive form for anyone over 18.
The HOH course progresses in six sections, from faith, to legal tools, to thankfulness, optimizing health, to building a support team, to fostering a culture of honor and remembrance. The program is accompanied by an original workbook and several videos featuring attorneys.
“We are mortals. We don’t want to admit it, but guess what? We’re mortals,” Miller said. “If your family knows your wishes, because you’ve had talked with them about what you want, whatever your age: ‘When I die, we want so and so to raise the baby, and we’ve talked to her and she’s ready to do that, and not so and so.’ Then feelings aren’t hurt, or if they were, they’ve been dealt with when you were there to explain the reasons.”
Perhaps one of the most rewarding elements to what HOH does is encouraging everyone to write letters to their closest loved ones to be read after they have passed. Miller explained that she has seen this process often draw families closer together in life, and resolve many disagreements waiting to happen when death occurs.
The largest, and final step in the HOH program is planning one’s own memorial or funeral. Miller explained that this is crucial since each person, she said, has an immense opportunity to bless all those they leave behind through good planning and a written encouraging testimony.
“It’s such an opportunity to present your faith,” she said. “You plan your own memorial service with a four page typed up testimony. There’s such a relief, if everyone knows, and it gets to be so you just joke about it.”