Planning Ahead

5 years ago

NOW when the number of my years

is all fulfilled, And I

From sedentary life shall rouse me up to die,

Bury me low and let me lie

Under the wide and starry sky.

Joying to live, I joyed to die.

Bury me low and let me lie.

                    ~Robert Louis Stevenson


On the days I'm actually in the mood to hear what's going on in the outside world (its an election seasion, mostly I'm not) I tend to listen to NPR's Northwest stations on the way to and from work.  Sometimes I have to throw in a CD or switch to a music station if its early morning and I'm having a hard time waking up or if its the way home and the soothing voice of Robert Seigel starts causing me to nod off at the wheel.  One of my doctors told me once that an attribute of unmedicated ADHD is  tendency to be extremely sleepy in the afternoons.  That was a BINGO! moment for me, as I had been having terrible trouble driving home from work on a daily basis.  Once I started medication it got much better, but I still have days when I'm a little overtired and driving home is a crapshoot.  But I digress.  Again.  I know, you're so surprised!

So a couple of weeks ago Diane Rehms did a segment on aging and preparing for end of life issues.  One of the guests kept talking about a program called Five Wishes.  Its basically a living will but with extras, like telling your survivors what you'd like them to say when people ask how you wanted to be remembered, picking songs or passages you'd like at your services or if you even want services, along with standard advance directives.  In most states, signed by the proper witnesses, it stands as a legal document. 

Its not easy to talk about death and dying, not for most people.  I don't mind it, but my parents have been very open for years about their wishes for end of life issues.  Mom keeps a folder with all the pertinent instructions and information on where all the necessary documents are located.   Other people aren't so comfortable about planning for or talking about what will happen if they get ill or very old or die suddenly.  I suppose most people don't often like to think about the fact that we're going to die someday.  Its the great unknown, isn't it?  It will happen to everyone, but we don't know how or when and we don't know for sure what happens after.  We might believe certain things about what happens when we die, but there's no clear information to be found about exactly how that goes down.  Is there a test?  A door greeter?  Is there really a Rainbow Bridge and will there be a Noah's Ark of all the animals I've ever loved waiting there for me?  Who's scooping all the poop up there in the meantime? 

I do know that I'm not afraid to die, per se, but I'm afraid of dying while my children are still young.  And because my children are still young and because I only recently remarried and I don't have a current will and my advance directive is about twenty years out of date, I really dug into what the folks on the radio were saying.  SG and I talked some about what we would want to happen after Ken died, but we never went ahead and put anything on paper.

When my brother died, it was completely unexpected.  I can't remember ever talking to him about what he wanted done when that time came, it just wasn't something we thought about.  We talked about what we knew our parents wanted, but it never occurred to either of us that we might not outlive our parents.  Because he'd never had those conversations with anyone and because he didn't have any advance directives, his death was exponentially more difficult, especially for my niece and nephews. They are young adults, and my niece was in the position of having to make a lot of decisions without really knowing for certain what her dad would have wanted.  She also had to deal with the pressure of making these decisions with a lot of different people telling her what they thought she ought to do.  Its a position I would never want to be in, and its a position I don't ever want to put anyone else in.

I kind of forgot about the Five Wishes site for several days, but at some point I had a chance to actually use my laptop at home and I checked out the information there.  I was planning to sit down with SG at the next opportunity to talk about the end of life planning and the need for us to outline our wishes and probably get wills made.  And then...

(This is where the hair on my arms starts to tingle a little bit)

...the doorbell rang.  The dogs freaked out, so it took a few seconds to shove them into their crates.  I opened the door and there was a very nice looking older blond lady standing on my stoop, holding a clipboard and carrying a casual looking briefcase.  She introduced herself and as it turns out, she is a sales representative for a local funeral home. 

COINCIDENCE?  Does this stuff ever happen to you?  Isn't it really spooky when it does?

It wasn't really a good time to have her come in and sit down with us (kids rampant, house messy, in the middle of things), but we made an appointment, and she came back a few days later.  We talked for a good hour or so, and she left us with some materials.  One of the materials is a pamphlet we keep even if we decide not to do any pre-planning, where we write down all of our important information, things we or our families would need to know if when we die.

I'm not planning on dying anytime soon, and neither is SG, of course.  Most of us aren't.  But this is a one way trip, boys and girls.  Making plans isn't something we are doing for ourselves.  Its something we are doing for each other and for our children and our families and friends.  When my spirit no longer lives in my body, what happens to my body won't matter to me.  It will matter, though, to the people I love.  And so we plan ahead, hoping that those plans won't be needed for many years to come, but having some peace about knowing that they are made just in case.

(No, SG, I'm NOT having your body shot into space on a rocket.  Stop asking me.)


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