Lately, in addition to writing about my past, I’ve been losing weight and getting fit—in many ways, attempting to turn back the clock. Beyond living life to the fullest, I haven’t spent a whole lot of energy preparing for my own death. And why should I? I’m a busy lady. With so many other people expecting things of me, and me expecting so much from myself, how can I work something like that into my schedule? I mean, come on—like many writers, I don’t do anything unless it comes with a deadline.
Oops. I guess when it comes to preparing for death we all have a deadline. We just don’t know when it is.
You might think I’d be the last person to be caught without the proper documentation when I reach the pearly gates. After all, I’m a writer—how hard can it be to slap together a last will and testament when there are templates to work from? Furthermore, I’m assisting aging parents as they deal with dementia, and have already reaped the benefits of the attention they paid to their advance directives and powers of attorney. My husband’s mother even planned her own funeral, and told Dave she wanted balloons at the party afterward; at his time of grief all he had to do was decide the order in which to sing her chosen hymns.
I should have learned this lesson after my first husband’s suicide.
For reasons that seemed practical at the time, Ron never added my name to the farmhouse he already owned when we married. We were just starting out our happy lives together; who was thinking about what might happen if Ron died?
I found out what happened—as concerns the farmhouse, there was no clear right of succession. You might think property would go to the spouse; after all, I’d cared for it and renovated it and called the place “home” for fifteen years, and raised my children there. The State of Pennsylvania had other thoughts. According to a pre-set formula, the boys and I inherited jointly—and because of that, I entered into a business relationship with my eight- and ten-year-old sons.
Ron dying without a will or power of attorney also meant that after his suicide—at a time when I was in deeper shock than at any other time in my life, and my kids needed me more than ever, and I had, literally and figuratively, a huge mess to clean up—I also had to go to the courthouse and get administratrix papers just so I could close our joint bank account or sell our jointly owned cars.
I did move forward with a will in those first years after Ron’s death, but in a test of resolve that I failed, when I went to sign it, the lawyer’s computer had crashed and she’d lost it. I could not scrape together the energy to do it again…and now it’s more than a decade later.
So it was with great interest I attended a recent series of programs at my church on preparing for the end of life. It was quite well attended—I wasn’t the only one who had put this issue off, and it seemed we all needed to hear the message one more time.
Yesterday, with both sons sitting around the table after Easter dinner, we talked about my will, how I planned to handle things, and what their wishes might be as concerns a few business details. I’m finally going to tend to this.
I have no more time or disposable income than I have had any other week in the past ten years, but I’m going to do this because that church series reminded me of something I’d already known: such preparations are both responsible and a huge gift. Acting on this knowledge is long overdue. I love my children, and should I predecease them, I want my passing to be a time of reflection and remembered joy and allowable grieving, unsullied by legal hassle. And should I linger, I want them to be clear on what I believe is a viable living state so they can make decisions not associated with inner turmoil.
I can help them with that, and I will. My appointment is at 10 a.m., May 2. How about you: are you prepared for your own demise?