Former pastor discusses spiritual importance of end-of-life planning

Humankind is made up of individuals, each person unique from the last in one way or another. But there’s one thing that unites us all, and that’s what happens when a life ends and a loved one has departed.

Ken Weiss knows that the loss of a loved one is one of the hardest things to deal with – but as a former pastor and current end-of-life planning expert, he also knows that it’s harder still to deal with funeral planning while coping with such a loss.

“What’s the worst time to plan a funeral? At the moment someone passes on,” Weiss said, when he spoke at the Pine Street United Methodist ecumenical luncheon on March 12.

Weiss, who works with the Maneval and Rearick-Carpenter funeral homes as an aftercare and pre-needs expert, worked in pastoral ministry for nearly 30 years, retiring as pastor of the First Church of Christ about a year and a half ago.

His work with the funeral homes encompasses “emotional, spiritual and financial planning” – Weiss also worked as a financial planner in the 1990s – but it was leading a congregation for many years that made him realize how crucial end-of-life planning is, not just for the individual, but for their family as well.

“As a pastor, I encouraged people to pre-plan for as long as I can remember,” he said.

“I can’t tell you how many times I was with a family at a hospital or a nursing home and the person drew their last breath, and you knew God had come and taken their soul to their eternal home,” he said, “and then the family would turn to me and ask, ‘What now, pastor?'”

Weiss said that his father, who he called his “hero,” didn’t plan his own funeral, and it was “a mess.”

“It’s the little things that matter, like hymns to be sung or Scriptures to be read, and when you’re in shock, you won’t remember them,” he said.

In some cases, he said, things that typically are managed by one member of a household – bills or investments, for example – can become a burden on spouses or family members if they’re not properly planned for.

Weiss recalled a story about a man who had passed away and not specified which key unlocked his safe-deposit box at the local bank, which held important papers about investments, division of assets, and so on.

“I went to his house with the family and there was a jar that looked like it held every key this man had owned in his entire life, and he was in his 90s when he passed,” he said.

“That was in 1987 and I still get the sweats thinking about it,” he joked.

This kind of bad experience underscores the need to plan for everything, Weiss said, even the most basic aspects of a funeral.

“I would ask someone, ‘Did your mother want her service at the funeral home or at the church?’ and they would say, ‘Huh?'” he said.

It’s why he encourages people to seek the services of pre-planning experts like himself.

“It’s my responsibility to make this as easy as possible on you,” he said.

Weiss distributed a short version of a funeral planning form at the luncheon that included the “spiritual” aspects of pre-planning, such as whether or not to hold the funeral service at a church, what hymns to be sung and what Scriptures or other passages to be read.

A pastor often is the “go-to” person in a congregation for any question, Weiss said, and he encouraged everyone to “have the discussion” with their own church leader.

“We don’t want to talk about it,” he said, “but it’s one thing in life we all share.”