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I’m Getting Ready to Die

Why you should be getting ready, too.

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Butterflies on hour glasses in pile of sand
Yasu + Junko (prop stylists: Francine Leclercq)
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No, I’m not planning on passing anytime soon, as I’m an extremely healthy 60-plus mom and grandmother. It’s just that I’ve decided to start preparing for the inevitable day when my children will have to deal with all my stuff.

If something were to happen to you today, would your children or other family members know where to find your insurance information and passwords? Have you told them what kind of funeral you’d like or what songs you want played at the service? Do you wish to be cremated or buried? Where will your final resting place be?

That’s what I mean by I’m getting ready to die.

First, full disclosure: I come from a long line of undertakers. Yes, we talked about death as if it were as common as the weather. I’ve had my cemetery plot since I was a child. In fact, my dad would do an annual check at Christmas if one of my four siblings or I had gotten married or divorced during the year.

The year I was divorced, my youngest brother remarried, and Dad insisted that his new bride decide — on the spot — whether she was going to be cremated and share a plot with my brother or if they needed the one my ex-husband just vacated. I’m not kidding. (She handled it well and went for cremation.)

Two years ago my dad passed away (peacefully, in his sleep). After spending days going through his possessions, we all knew exactly what items went to whom and how to handle the funeral arrangements. He’d given us all copies of his will and had a book in his desk with specific instructions about his worldly stuff. Dad had two deer mounts in his basement, and his instructions were to give the first choice to the grandson who had shot the biggest deer in the last hunt. Congratulations, Erik! I miss his sense of humor! We took truckloads of dad’s possessions to Goodwill and all of his clothes, books, music and videos to the veterans home. His Navy uniform and memorabilia were dispersed between his grandsons who had also served.

In case you’re wondering about my mom, she was stricken with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) when I was a teenager, so my awareness of mortality was intensified when she died at age 46.

So, back to me and how I’m getting ready to die. I’ve been a reader my entire life, and I have shelves overflowing with books I’ve read and will never read again. So I found an app that scans a code and accepts books for a reseller. I don’t care if they’re giving me 8 cents for a $15 book! That’s better than tossing it. The rest are being donated to whoever will take them.

I’ve also been going through all the photo albums and taking them out of those horrible cling pages and putting them into clear envelopes labeled by year. Many of them are being tossed, and some are being sent to the people in the photos whom my children wouldn’t recognize. It’s been a fun way to reconnect with old friends and distant family members. My daughter asked me to write my own obituary, so I think I’ll start it with, “Ellen was her dad’s favorite and was adored by her children.” Hey, if I’m writing it, then it’s my reality! 

My will is current, and both my children have copies. My daughter, the one with the master’s degree in economics, will be my executor. My son gets my airplane only if he starts working on his pilot’s license.

I have started looking at everything in my house through the eyes of the next generation. Will they think my college yearbook is valuable? Ahem, guess again. I might as well toss those brilliant papers I wrote back in the 1970s while working on my degrees. I just don’t think my thesis will be appreciated after all these years.

So, remember, I’m not being morbid by planning for my death. I’m being realistic. Do you honestly think you will be the one who will beat the odds for mortality? The last time I checked, it was one death per person and there is no escaping.

Start planning for your funeral. Quit pretending it’s not going to happen. Don’t burden your family by making them guess, or argue, about your final wishes. That is being selfish. I’m getting ready to die, and so should you.

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