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Some Notes to Ponder Upon - for RSA Members and their families.

We are all going to die. That is as inevitable as taxes, yet I am amazed how often we complete little to no preparation for this major event in the lives of our families. Part of our services background is that we face up to the tough decisions in our lives. If this discussion makes you uncomfortable, frankly I don’t care, as the RSA and other welfare teams have had to clean up the mess that many ex-Service personnel have left behind for the families to cope with. If you had seen that chaos and devastation, you would not hesitate to act.

Step One – Make an up to date will.

Ideally, this will be done with good legal advice, and you and your partner in life must have wills that support each other. You can use a legal firm, or a professional agency of your choice – but DO IT.  The ramifications of dying without a will are hard on the family, and they do not need that legal complexity in addition to the grief they will be going through. If it is more than 5 years since last revision, it is out likely to be out of date.  

Step Two – Have the “funeral discussion” with your family

This is important as although the funeral is for your family (it is not for you) as part of their grief resolution process, there are lots of things that you will be aware of that your family may not – for example:

  • Where do you want to be buried? If your wider family expectation is that you will be buried in the plot next to your father, now is the time to make your views on that clear. If you have a specific wish that may be different to what your brothers and sisters expect, establish that now. You are far better to have that argument now - our experience is that after you have passed away it is too late.
  • Do you wish to be cremated rather than buried? Have this discussion with the family and make it clear to all who need to know so you avoid the normally angry debate with the extended family who may have different views after your death.
  • Where is the money coming from to pay for the funeral?  Set up insurance, or savings account, or pre-pay for the bulk of the funeral cost with your choice of insurer or undertaker. We do recommend that you go and see the local undertakers in your area and see what they can offer and at what cost. They will lead an open and direct discussion on the options available with your funeral. They all wish more families would have this informal discussion PRIOR to the death of a loved one. You will learn a lot about funerals and the legal processes associated with your death and that will assist the family and their decisions.
  • Do you have a preferred Minister or Celebrant?  This is a family decision, not just you, as it has to be someone that your family feels comfortable with as well. If you have any preferences on the format and type of service, speak to the Minister in advance – they will welcome that discussion as it makes it far easier for them and they can also provide you with advice on options that you may not consider. Examples include how much ‘God stuff’ you want, what special hymns, who you would like to deliver your eulogy, pallbearers, etc. Some of us will have the luxury of a terminal illness warning so we can do all this preparation, others will not.
  • Make sure your family are aware that they control the funeral/tangi arrangements – not the local RSA or the Regt Assn. They will fit in around the family choices and decisions. You do not have to play the Last Post or recite any Ode unless you agree. If you want a private family service without any military presence, you can do that. 
  • Finally, in this area – military support for your funeral. Plan on none is my blunt advice. Our Armed Forces Units are always overwhelmed, and cannot turn on a 100 man guard, gun carriages, a firing party, and all the bells and whistles that some family members expect. In most cases, you will have some RSA reps and maybe some old mates wearing medals. There are a few who may get a bit extra in the way of support, but most of us should plan on a small simple service and slip humbly out of sight surrounded by the love of our families.

One of the real challenges with funerals/tangi is timing.

First, it is an unrealistic expectation that all of the deceased family and military comrades will be able to attend your funeral. We all have competing calls on our time, and you will not get 100% attendance. As you age, this will get worse, as travel becomes even harder to manage. The family does have some options that will assist.

  • There can be costs associated with delays, but apart from meeting your religious beliefs, you do not have to bury anyone in a rush these days. Your funeral director can give you good advice on the options available at the time. Delays can also allow friends and family time to get home from overseas, to drive to the funeral rather than fly, and many other reasons.
  • You can have a small private family service, followed by a Memorial Service a month or so later.
  • You can use the unveiling of the headstone in a year or so as the ‘Memorial Service’.

Second, all of the above and any other options you want as a family are fine. You choose as there are no rules.

Finally, one of the key bits of information that always creates stress is the military Statement of Service needed for the extended family and the person delivering your obituary needs. This is generally a one page summary of your military service – enlistment, postings, tours of duty, ranks, medals, etc. This is provided free through your undertaker – all it needs is an email from them to the team at NZDF Personnel Archives in Trentham and you will have the information within one working day. This will ensure that the service details delivered at your funeral are accurate and not reliant on someone’s memory.

As a cohort, we are widely admired in our communities for our professional high standards. Let’s also extend that to our funerals and tangi.

N42723 J.S. (Jack) Hayes, RNZIR and NZSAS.