Monday, April 25, 2011

Facing Mortality: A challenge

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?


Keith Schrader said...

God Bless you for posting this very important message. I had more heart problems just last week. (spent 5 days in hospital). Thought that everything was fine after all that had happened last year. I do have my final plans in place and I have donated my body to the U. of Arizona. Hopefully someone can learn from my old cavity and be able to help others.
Every day is a blessing from God and you are correct when you say that there may not be a tomorrow.
Thank you Kay and for all you Miami University grads - - - R.I.P. Uncle Phil

Donna Galanti said...

Hi Kathryn, this is a wake up call for many I suspect. I am sorry you had to deal with such troubles legally after your first husband died - that added to a horrific situation already. We did our wills 2 years ago and made sure our life insurance is enough to cover each comfortably in life. I also made sure my parents did theirs as well as they hadnt done one since before I was born! I agree with you, we all need to be prepared. And the more I fly the more terrified I get I will crash and my son wont have his mom anymore - but at least he will have comforts provided by my insurance and be able to spend alot of time with his Dad to heal.I thank goodness my Mom made conditions before she died 2 years ago, as she was terrified of being buried below ground and wanted to be donated to science. I felt good arranging all that as I knew she wanted it. Your sons will thank you for doing all this preparation and when the day comes (far, far from now) that you are gone - they will be able to mourn in peace.

Kathryn Craft said...

Keith: So sorry to hear about your persistent heart troubles. I've always wondered if I might know, on some intuitive level, when my end was near--but it seems that the timing remains a mystery, even for those who were sure it was "time" and yet recovered. With so much uncertainty, and for the sake of our loved ones, it makes sense to control what we can.

Kathryn Craft said...

Thanks, Donna, and good for you for being prepared! As I wrote this post I thought, you know, lessons aren't REALLY learned until they're applied...

Mominator5107 said...

Great post Kathryn! Holly

Peaches said...

I found your site and find it very healing. I also write, sometimes to heal myself. Your post has given me ideas to write about mortality too - myself and mother -as today I ponder about many things.
Thanks for the post.

Kathryn Craft said...

Thanks for reading Holly. And Peaches, thanks for your comment. My writing inspires and heals me, and when it can do the same for others, I'm thrilled!

hearwritenow said...

Thanks for the reminder Kathryn; I've been meaning to get around to doing a will since 2003.

I'm sorry to hear of all you've gone through, and now also your dad's death too. I hope you continue to find healing in your writing.


Kathryn Craft said...

Thanks for your kind words, Elle. I've learned to embrace my life's experience, though, as it has made me who I am. None of us are promised an easy ride, are we? I feel privileged to be allowed this journey.

Bob Sanchez said...

Kathryn, thank you for the thoughtful post, and for visiting my blog book tour today. I'm sorry to learn about your first husband. My youngest brother died suddenly in 1997, and he left no will, adding unnecessary trouble to his widow's grief. On the other hand, my oldest brother has been prepared for years. He created a detailed file folder labeled "Good Grief," which contains everything he thinks his family would need to know, including bank account information and computer passwords, and he periodically reminds his family of its existence and location.

Kathryn Craft said...

Bob: Thanks for stopping in. "Good grief"—my Dad, like Charlie Brown, said that all the time, and he had his affairs fully in order when he died last month. Thanks for sharing that. I love it.