Preparing for My Own Death
Who wants to think about their own mortality, yet preparing for our death? I didn’t think I’d want to, yet it has become a part of my annual new year process; that is quite rich.
I began preparing for my own death in a Death and Dying class in college when I was twenty years old. In one our classes I was given the assignment to prepare my funeral/memorial service. This woke me up to the many details that exist in death. It also woke me up to the amount of work another would have to do in my absence while grieving, which didn’t feel right to me.
At twenty-three I gave birth to my daughter. Remembering what I learned in my college class I would update my “Death” folder in my office between Christmas and the New Year with details of what my daughter would need to know when I die. This folder has now become electronic and although I haven’t done it yet, I can include videos and other media, should I choose.
What I keep in my Open When I Die folder:
Service details. This is left over from my college planning days. I let my daughter know whom to invite to my memorial service. I let her know the where of my service and who I want to officiate it. I indicate where I want gifts to be given, if any. Knowing that the service is for those left behind, not me, I am less detailed about it now that she is an adult. I do, though, make it easy for her to access my contact list for notification.
Contact information to my financial advisor.
Power of attorney.
Health directive. Medical team information. Living will.
Durable power of attorney.
Deeds to my house, car, etc.
Insurance and financial documents. This includes passwords to access accounts.
Passwords to social media accounts so they can be shut down.
Historical information on household items.
I was washing dishes one day looking at a beautiful plate with two ears of corn hanging above my sink. It was my beloved grandmother’s plate. As I leaned into the love this plate symbolized I realized that to my daughter this is just a plate with corn on it. I want her to know the items I have that came through the family to her. I am not attached to her keeping them, however, I want the choice to be a conscious one. Plus, history is fun. A friend of mine has a bit art collection. She bought her pieces from her various travels. She has decided upon her death that each friend is going to receive one of her pieces. She created a video and written piece for each with its history, the artist, and its current market value.
This is my favorite part and the one I enjoy doing the best. I have always liked writing personal notes and sending greeting cards. I write each year letters to the people in my inner circle I deeply love. Then, my daughter can mail them or gift them after my passing. It is my final thank you note. I have taken to writing my young grand daughter regular notes of family history that my daughter will give to her when she feels her daughter is old enough to appreciate them.
In addition, I have regular conversations with my daughter about death in general, and mine in particular. I want her to know that I understand grief, and I don’t want her to get stuck in it. I give her permission to love me and to really let me go. I tell her that her greatest homage to me is to live her life fully and in her own flavor, to love her children, and to leave her own destiny impression. I continue to have moments of deep grief and sadness mingled with intense gratitude for those who have gone before me. My intention is not to make her wrong for missing me, yet, I’ve observed clients get stuck in believing the more sad they are after someone has died, the more love they are demonstrating. I want my daughter to know this isn’t true. Being stuck in pain doesn’t honor me. Her choice to live fully does. I will be cheering for her in the invisible.
In our conversations I also encourage her to think about her official, legal paperwork and what she wants when she passes. Although we make the assumption I am leaving first, this may not be the case. Honoring her life and death is important to me as honoring mine.