How to hack a couple of our main fears of death: our wishes not being carried out and being a burden to people we love.
Today I took part in a three hour workshop on end-of-life planning and it was so relevant to anyone who is going to die someday!
There was a death doula in attendance and she made a beautiful metaphor to illustrate why we should make our end-of-life arrangements: if we buy a house, we definitely get home insurance so we can enjoy our investment knowing things will be taken care of in the event a tree falls on our roof. This is just like end-of-life planning: it’s buying ourselves insurance so we can enjoy our life knowing our plans are in place and our affairs are in order.
There are so many reasons to make our end-of-life arrangements:
So we can make the big decisions when we are clear headed and have the mental space (and capacity) to do so mindfully
To alleviate from our loved ones the decision-making burden of trying to figure out what we would have wanted
To ensure that our wishes are carried out in alignment with our values and meaning
So that we can enjoy our life and be present in the time we have left to live
There are three aspects of end-of-life planning:
Legal aka What to do with your stuff — Your will and the distribution of your money and property (like how I want my collection of vintage evening bags to be distributed!)
Health aka How I want decisions about my health to be made and what I want done with my body after I die — what your health-related decisions are if you are incapacitated (resuscitation, ventilator, feeding tubes, where you want to die), what you want done with your remains (eg burial, cremation, aquamation, composting, donation to science, etc.)
Legacy aka How do I want to be remembered? — What kind of service or ceremony (or party!) you want, if you have a headstone or marker, what it should say, whether you want people to donate to a particular cause or effort in your memory, etc.
START NOW. We know we will die, but we don’t know when — we only know that we might die tomorrow. It’s never too early to get your wishes on paper, and it’s not as complicated as you might think.
The Legal Part
I used LegalZoom for my Last Will & Testament, and it took me like 15 minutes to get this baby set in stone.
The Health & Body Part
Advanced Directive — free download for your state
The Legacy Part
There is no official form for this one — it’s easy! Just write some shit down about what you want after you die. Here is a helpful (and entertaining) death planning video from Caitlin Doughty.
An event like a ceremony, funeral, memorial, or party — if so, what does that look like?
How you want your body to be handled and any special requests regarding this process.
Do you want a headstone / marker / urn? If so, what would this say?
How you want to be remembered (or not remembered) — a bench or other memorial, donations to an organization in your honor, a request to celebrate your life annually on National Pizza Day?
The final step
Make sure you get all of this information into the hands of people who will be there when you are dying or have died. Email them copies of all of this stuff, and remind them from time to time that they have it. I remind my sister practically every other week that my almost finished book is on my laptop, what the password is, and who she should contact to get it out into the world in case I die before it’s completely finished.
The fear so many of us have relating to dying with our affairs out of order or leaving an enormous burden on our loved ones is avoidable (or at least mitigated) by planning for our death now. Part of living like you might die tomorrow and enjoying your life now is to plan for a good death.