Don’t Fear the Last Item on the Bucket List

What last item, you may ask? Well, it’s the very last thing we all do—we die. However, it doesn’t need to be a scary or fearful thing. As with many things, preparation is everything. I’ll explain.

My mother, knowing that eventually her metastatic breast cancer would end her life, set out to dot every “i” and cross every “t” for Dad and me. She and Dad went over all their paperwork, and made a “final folder” containing such valuable information as:

  • Wills
  • DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) paperwork
  • Burial or cremation (burial) and cemetary plot information
  • Insurance information
  • Biographical information for the obituary. If you like, add that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to <whatever charity you choose>. My mom wanted to have donations made to Hospice or the local animal shelter. Many people donated to both these worthy charities and in this way shared their love for Mom.
  • Caskets (Mom and Dad picked out their own and paid for them up front)
  • Instructions for burial and what the “*last outfit” will be
  • Instructions for funeral services and/or viewing
  • Any information for family members regarding items to be gifted to them

…and so forth. But best of all, we TALKED together about death and dying. Happily, all of us shared the belief that death is just a transition to another way of life, which is our original state–the spirit form. We also believe that we all have lived many lives on Earth, and have connected over time because we are destined to be together. My dad might have been my brother in one life, my grandmother in another life. My mother might have been my child in one life, or my uncle in another life.

All this plus a lot of talking back and forth made death a part of the family, so to speak. We aren’t church-goers–we are more spiritual than religious. However, Mom wanted a service at the new Congregational Church in town, with its fabulous female minister. The first time she met with us, we felt so comfortable with her.

She asked us about what we all wanted in the funeral service, and Mom asked her to sing one song (she has an amazing voice) about angels. When asked what hymns or songs Mom wanted, she chose them all, ending with Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek (‘Heaven, I’m in Heaven!’).” As Mom and Dad were ballroom dancers for over 40 years, this was the perfect choice. And at the funeral, there was a smile on every face.

I have been graced with the opportunity to be with my grandfather just after he died, and with my late mother-in-law, Hazel, when she died. Both times the passing was peaceful; one breath and then no more. The feeling of peace was everywhere. I wasn’t able to be with my mother when she died, but my dad was; this is the way I felt it was meant be. Mom slipped back into her glorious spirit form with no pain, no fear, no dread, and perfect knowledge that she was off to another great adventure.

Here’s the thing: we in this country fear death as the ultimate enemy. No one wants to talk about it, so often people don’t end up planning for it. It’s as if we think that, if we ignore death and all its trappings that it just won’t happen. But when it does, we are like drowning sailors in a stormy sea–we feel we have no lifeboat, no buoy, no helping hand to raise us up.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We could start talking about death much earlier; say your little 5-year old daughter’s beloved dog dies. How do we prepare her for this life-changing event, and talk with her in a way she can understand? We don’t have to candy-coat it, just give her the information she needs at the time. Answer questions truthfully. (Speaking of talking with children; it’s a good idea NOT to get them thinking that sleep = death, that is; ‘Bowser went to sleep and never woke up.’ )

Most of all, while we are alive and living our lives, always, always, ALWAYS speak your love to those around you. Even though you may have people in your life that dismiss ‘all that mushiness,’ say it anyway. It will be heard. While Mom was in Hospice care, a day never went by that she and Dad and I would tell each other, “I love you with all my heart.” Mom’s and Dad’s 60-year marriage was filled with millions and billions of hugs, kisses, declarations of love, kindness, comfort and joy. As the beneficiary of all that love, I too believe that you can’t speak or demonstrate your love enough.

Start talking or at least thinking about the dying process and death.When you make plans for this inevitability, you make life immensely easier for your family. You have the peace of mind knowing that you have done all you can to help your family prepare for and survive your own passing. Plus, you have opened the door to candid conversations about the process of dying. In this way, death becomes less a boogeyman than an an old friend whose loving hand guides you back home.

*Mom had hers all picked out early on. We hung it right in the middle of her closet so that she could see it from her bed; a gorgeous white ruffled linen jacket over a silver tank top, dressy black slacks and her favorite silver eucalyptus pin and earrings Dad gave her years ago. She would look at it and smile, saying, ‘aren’t I going to look snappy?’

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