A straight funeral director who’s planned lots of LGBT funerals has some practical advice to make sure last wishes are honored
Jeff Friedman prefers to celebrate life rather than dwell on death. That’s why he’s part of the “Before I die” art installation on Lowest Greenville.
The idea is simple: On four panels, people are invited to write in chalk something they’d like to do before they die. Some are life changing — like kicking cancer.
Others may not be. One of Friedman’s favorites was a man who wrote he’d like to finish his book. He asked the man if he was writing the book.
Hell, no, the man told him — he started reading a book 30 years ago and he’d like to finally finish it.
Whatever it is that someone would like to do, Friedman encourages them to do it before they die so they can leave this earth without regrets. He hears those stories of regret far too often.
Friedman is president of DistinctiveLife Cremations & Funerals. The company is based in Houston, but he has both a licensed funeral home in Plano and a store location in Richardson for cremation services.
Friedman said the first time he dealt with a gay couple, he understood he was dealing with some different issues than opposite-sex couples face. In that first case, the couple had been together 20 years and the parents were still alive. Friedman had to listen to the fighting over the cremated remains.
In another case, the mom and dad were Catholic and wanted a traditional funeral mass. Their son had left the church because of its rejection of gays and his partner wanted a celebration of his life. Friedman pointed out that a religious service for the family doesn’t preclude a celebration of life for the friends, and in that case he encouraged them to do both.
Family and friends who wanted to honor a trans woman’s entire life weren’t sure how to do that. Friedman encouraged them to display pictures that included her time living as a man. He said for that family, it was their way of remembering they loved her before her transition as much as after.
Friedman said he likes working out solutions for families that aren’t in agreement over the funeral. But the best solution for same-sex couples — at least until Texas becomes a marriage equality state — is to write out your wishes. Visit an attorney and have the paperwork drawn up, Friedman advised.
While many couples have powers-of-attorney drawn up, that power of those documents ends at death, Friedman pointed out. If a couple is not recognized as married in Texas, the rights of a deceased person’s parents, children or siblings take precedence over the rights over their partner, no matter how long the couple has been together.
“The right of disposition goes to the family,” he said. “We’ve gone to battle with a lot of families.”
He said the best way to make sure a spouse, partner or friend is in charge of the disposition of the body, including any funeral or memorial services, is to have an attorney draw up a “spring” amendment. That document springs into action after the power-of-attorney ends at death and before a will is read.
In that document, specify any wishes, especially who should make decisions about the disposition and funeral.
“There’s lots of guilt at the time of death,” Friedman said.
He said he’s seen that guilt amplified at the time of death especially from families who have not accepted the relative’s sexual orientation.
He also said the problem is usually with gay male couples and rarely with lesbians.
“Gay couples won’t talk about death,” he said, while lesbians are more likely to talk to each other about what they want. His advice for all couples is,
“Talk things out then go to a lawyer and have it put down on paper.”
Friedman is also not a big proponent of prearranged funerals. Prepaying for the mechanics is one thing, he said, but micromanaging the service is another.
By the mechanics, he means prepaying for a flight to transport the body from Dallas to a family plot elsewhere in the country. Prepaying for a casket prevents guilt from driving the family to buy something more expensive than they really want or can afford.
Too many people, however, preplan by directing which music and what readings will be included as well as where and when the memorial will take place. He said that prevents those who knew the person best from truly celebrating the person’s life and honoring the person’s memory.
Friedman said cremations have 43 percent of the funeral market right now but the percent is even higher in the LGBT community. With cremations, memorials aren’t as likely to be held the week of the death as with burials.
He advised mourners not to delay the celebration of life, because more often than not, the memorial doesn’t take place.
“People want to come together to honor the person,” he said. “They want closure.”
The “Before I Die” public art installation, on a wall across from Trader Joe’s on Lowest Greenville, continues through the end of May.
For information about DistinctiveLife Cremations and Funerals, visit DistinctiveLife.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 29, 2015.