A Life Lesson Becomes a Remarkable Young Man’s Final Legacy

Death is a very touchy and highly personal subject. It is not something that most people are eagerly willing to discuss at length during any stage of their life. The guesswork that can happen due to a lack of information about the departed person’s final wishes in terms of their funeral planning can be a huge challenge. I write this article after experiencing the recent loss of yet another family member in my own clan, unfortunately one of many in our family. I do know that communication of one’s final wishes can be the best gift that you can give your loved ones. I also know that it truly can be put into the “matter of fact” territory, a comfort zone which can make it so much easier for survivors to handle the aftermath of a loss in the midst of grieving.

Dustin Campbell was one of the most remarkable young men I’ve ever met. At the age of 18, Dustin learned that he had cancer, but he was told that it was quite likely he could be cured of his illness. His cancer journey included chemotherapy, radiation and also a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately a remission was not in the cards for the gifted young student. Dustin lived his cancer journey while he was at the University of Alberta to work on his biology degree with a minor in chemistry. He kept a 3.9 grade point average throughout his entire university career, despite the grim world of aggressive cancer treatments that were a large part of his life. His goal was to become a doctor; a choice which all of his professors knew would be a natural career path for Dustin.

Dustin underwent a three year journey with cancer, but he eventually discovered that he was going to die from his illness. He was a good friend of my youngest son Brad since their first year in student residence and they decided that they would become room mates. Dustin was honest with Brad and advised my son that it was very likely that Brad would go through something quite significant with him. Dustin’s implied message meant that Brad would be included in Dustin’s cancer journey which could likely include the dying process. Brad was comfortable with the obvious challenges of Dustin’s cautionary request and was determined to treat Dustin as a good friend that was living life to the fullest – not as someone who was simply dying and marking time in life.

Dustin Campbell passed away during his 21st year, but he was able to accept the inevitability of his fate with dignity and provide one final gift to his family .In Dustin’s brilliance, he was determined to try his best to live but, when he was informed that he was terminal, Dustin privately made his own arrangements for his funeral. By private, it meant that Dustin handled every detail and spared his grief-stricken family the pressure of funeral planning for this remarkable young man. I suspect that he wanted to spare his mom Della from the additional stress of grim funeral decisions because he knew that she would already have suffered great pain from his passing. I knew Dustin very well and suspect that he knew that it would be the biggest final gift that he could give to his family, and he was right.

Dustin lost his battle with cancer in the 10th month of the 21st year of his young life. Brad was there, as Dustin had predicted, and he had the responsibility to make the 911 call as instructed by Dustin, along with the privilege of Dustin’s final request to Brad that he tell Dustin’s parents that he loved them. It was a shock for Brad to witness the death of a close friend right in front of him and very tough for Brad to take his place as one of the pallbearers for Dustin’s funeral.

Yet Dustin’s funeral was beautiful, overflowing with people that knew this wise and wonderful young man. By then we had found out that he’d done all of the planning behind a service that included which people would be involved in the ceremony, the live musicians, the celebrants, and his own slide show that he’d done on his computer. As well, there was a video segment that included Dustin’s exceptional ability to play piano…he ended up playing at his own funeral. For all of us that were present for this amazing celebration, we knew that we had an experience that quite likely would never be repeated – to have celebrated the life of an exceptional young man who was wise well beyond his years. We also knew that Dustin would never be forgotten because his work had only just begun for the rest of us. We can help make the difference that Dustin had envisioned.

One of the touching by-products of Dustin’s legacy was his mother Della’s new role as a volunteer counselor for families that have encountered the same devastation as Della. She is able to deliver the unique counsel provided by somebody who truly understands their circumstances and benefited from her own remarkable son’s ability to understand how he could make his family’s life easier by his decisions. Della continues to advise other families on the path that was chosen by Dustin and how it affected her in a positive way after his passing-a time when positives are tough to find. Della feels that she is now able to bring a part of Dustin’s legacy with her in her role as an advisor to other families. One young man has been able to convey his feelings about his own loved ones because of Dustin’s example. It is a gift that will stay with his family forever-just like Dustin’s.

Here are a few questions about what you can do to help your loved ones become aware of your wishes:

  1. Which funeral home?
  2. Cremation and/or burial? Casket and/or urn?
  3. Location of funeral: funeral home, church, hall, other?
  4. Date of funeral: viewing, prayers, service, wake?
  5. Other items: flowers, programs for services (what would I like
    on them), memorial packages, e.g. flower seeds, photos?
  6. Funeral: songs – singers, recorded music; what are my
    favorites? Slide show? Who to do eulogy? If have readings,
    which ones read by which people?
  7. Burial: grave plot at cemetery, headstone (what would I like on
    it); if cremation, what to do with ashes?
  8. Donations to charity – which one(s)?

Dustin was able to save his family additional stress because he organized his own funeral in the way that best suited his personal wishes. It was an amazing feat for a young man to accomplish for his last gift to his loved ones and we can learn from his example. By answering the above questions, you too can give the most beautiful gift to your loved ones: the absolute comfort provided by the final wishes of a departed loved one. Write out your answers and give copies to those that need to know this information. It will feel good to complete this information while you are well and not in a state of change or loss…so do it now!

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