I've been asked, "How do you come up with a topic or storyline?" Well, Jim and I used to share memories of how we grew up or sometimes something unexpected would happen, and we would take it from there.

I might hear something on TV or radio, or read in a book, magazine or newspaper that sparks an idea. This time, I was prompted to write about something I've put off. I know, I'm a procrastinater, always planning to do it later.

When a friend of mine passed away, her family called asking me for help. They didn't know the information needed for their mom's obituary. I'm thankful I had kept the information when I had interviewed her for an AARP project years ago.

A person never knows when their family might need this information. I'm sure not planning to kick the bucket suddenly. It's not a joke, it is a serious subject. My kids know who I am -- I'm their mom, but they don't really know my history.

Jim and I had found it hard to talk about death or dying. That's why we didn't get our tombstone picked out ahead of time or plan our funerals. We always thought we had time.

When I watched the TV show "Mike & Molly" recently, they became tangled up in talk of death and funerals.

It was a really funny show but actually reminded me how important it is to plan ahead.

When I was a kid, we called the man doing a funeral the undertaker. I checked the dictionary. Undertaker is a person whose business is preparing bodies for burial and making arrangements for funerals. Now the dictionary says an undertaking is a formal promise to do something. That is exactly what the funeral director does -- he promises to help you at a very stressful time. But if we plan ahead, we will make it easier for our family.

If you are thinking, "Where do I start?" Don't rely on what you hear or what someone has said. It's best to go directly to the source. Ask those who know -- ask your pastor, your lawyer and the funeral director. They will help you make important decisions.

To get started, pick up a biographical record guide from your funeral director. Take time to fill it out and don't be afraid to ask questions about anything. Remember, there never is a "dumb" question.

In this record guide, you can list your personal history, family history, where your important papers can be found, what you want for your service and more. You can even pre-plan a funeral in detail, even selecting the casket, clothing, music, flowers and so on. Costs can be pre-paid also.

When I read the quote by Dan Reeves, "Don't overlook the little things, they are important," I realized after the big things are taken care of, you might want to list who gets what. I remember Carla Morrical-Frederking, our past Extension agent, gave a program titled "Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?" Now's the time to specify your desires.

Here's a few dos and don'ts:

* Do: After doing this planning, be sure to give a copy of these plans to next-of-kin or the person responsible for making your arrangements.

* Do: Give the funeral director a copy of plans to keep in his files.

* Do: Let your family know what you have done and give them a chance to ask questions.

* Don't: Put these plans in your safe deposit box or list them only in your will.

* Don't: Worry. You can make changes; these plans aren't set in stone.

To plan ahead is not to be feared. Planning your own funeral is a scary thing to do. We don't want to think about it, but your family will be so happy you thought of them and planned ahead. It's a gift to your loved ones. Getting started is the hard part. I better follow my own advice.

Opal Flinn, Ellis, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.