While crouching under my kitchen table the other evening—gripping its legs with white knuckles, heart pounding behind my eyeballs—I found that my mind covered quite a bit of territory during the thirty-eight seconds it took for my house to stop rolling during a recent 6.9-magnitude earthquake in Northern California. For instance… are my affairs really in order? What if this was the big kahuna?
I think about impermanence and dying throughout the course of almost every day. I am surrounded by it as a hospice nurse, and this contemplation is a foundation for my spiritual practice. So… I thought I was pretty good to go. I live simply with a basically uncomplicated life. Don’t owe money. Possessions are relatively few. I have a legal will in place. I’ve appointed someone to make health care decisions for me if I find that I can’t. I have a designated Durable Power of Attorney in the event of my incapacitation, someone who is also the executor of my estate in the case of my unfortunate demise. Everything seemed to be responsibly in place—or so I assumed.
Not quite, according to a friend of mine who spent months last year researching all aspects of death and dying as only a Ph.D. physicist might do. He was very thorough. Particularly, he examined what happens after the funeral, something most of us don’t think about. If our affairs are not together, some poor soul, usually a loved one, will be left holding the bag. In the midst of their sorrow, as they grapple with loss, they will also need to completely close out our life, as well as get rid of a lifetime of accumulations. And if we have left them with a mess to clean up, we have just complicated their grief!
When I took a closer look at what that all would entail, it was a big eye-opener, and I realized that taking responsibility now—before the big one hits, or I get a terminal diagnosis or get run over on the street corner—was the biggest gift I could give to my family and friends.
Ask yourself: Does your designated person have access to your accounts? Passwords? What bills will need to be terminated that get paid automatically? Where do you keep the pink slip for your car? Do they have all the information they need to close out your online life? Amazon Prime, Netflix, social media accounts etc? Are your policies in one place? What sources of income do you have that others might not know about? Where do you stash all your money? Will someone come knocking on their door looking for the money you owe them? Do you have a list of people with numbers that they should notify when you die? Professional organizations?
Have you thought about and made clear your personal desires for the time of your dying? In a perfect world, who would you like to be there to support you? What do you wish to have done afterward? Funeral? Cremation? Memorial? It is so much easier for loved ones to carry out your explicit wishes than it is to have to figure it all out themselves.
Even though I do not own much, I have taken great pleasure in creating my will, mentally giving everything away to specific people in my life while I am still alive. It has helped to loosen my grip on clinging to my stuff. I continue to update it when I get new ideas.
One does not need a lawyer; there are resources available. My friend recommends this book: The Funeral is Just the Beginning – Everything You Need to Do When a Loved One Dies by Amy Levine. There is a computer program that is complete and makes it pretty simple: Quicken WillMaker Plus, Version 2014.
Feeling the ground shake beneath my feet was impetus enough for me to pull it together. Someday we will breathe out and not breathe in again, and someone will have to deal with everything we leave behind. Think about it. Please share this information with others. It is one of the kindest things you can do for the folks you love. I felt immense relief after I buttoned it all up and “had the conversation” with my designated people. We went over every detail, and now my mind is at peace. I hope to live many more years, but if the unthinkable should happen—a sudden death—I know that I have done my best.