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How to Die Properly, Part 1

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Photo Credit: Barry Price

During college, a friend of mine crooned a song by the Toadies with creepy intonation. “Do you wanna diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie?”

I had the unfortunate luck to catch his eye mid-grimace. Entertained by my squeamish reaction, he provided disturbing serenades for the next several years. To this day, I cringe at the memory.

The answer is a resounding no.

I do not.

However, there’s not much I can do about dying. Neither can you.

Eventually, death comes to us all.

If you read my last post, you know we recently lost my father in law. Thankfully, he did almost everything possible to make this process easier on the family.

Here are three easy ways to make our demise easier on loved ones.

  1. Have a plan.

    • Put the end game in writing.

      • According to this USA Today article, 64% of adults in the U.S. don’t have a written will. Write one.
      • A lawyer may not be necessary. Check out this AARP post for specifics.
      • Research the laws in your state; some (Connecticut, for instance) have strange guidelines. Think you’ll leave everything to your spouse? Want it all divvied up equally among your kids? Put it in ink or the courts might decide on your behalf—and the outcome may surprise your family.
    • Be sure the plan is accessible.

      • A written will doesn’t help if no one can retrieve it. Emotions will run high and may be volatile. Don’t add the stress of trying to locate or access paperwork.
      • Small fire-safe boxes are available at home improvement stores. Give a copy of the key or combination to a trusted friend or family member. Keep it at home, not in a bank lock box (which might require a court order).
  2. Communicate.

    • Inform people who need to know.

      • Tell your significant other, children, lawyer or other trusted individual where you have stored your will, insurance information, etc.
    • Discuss your wishes with more than one person.

      • In addition to putting your wishes in writing, inform family members and/or close friends. Want to be cremated? Tell your family, so it’s no surprise.
  3. Get a policy.

    • Life insurance.

      • Even though most of us know we should have life insurance, 40% of us don’t. Without life insurance, our loved ones may be left footing unexpected bills.
    • Death insurance.

      • Okay, it’s not actually called death insurance. But at the very least, consider a policy that will cover expenses, especially if you want a casket and in-ground burial. The average cost of cremation is around $1100, while burial costs can exceed ten times that amount.

 

This is only a start. Click the links in this post for articles providing a wealth of information.

If you have experience to share, please add it below. All of us die eventually; we might as well work together.

 

 

 

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Losing Dad

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Photo Credit: Kate Gabrielle

I went to bed early, but Hubby couldn’t sleep. All four siblings and their families would be in one place the next day, arriving from other areas and states to celebrate Christmas together. Dad’s nine grandchildren would be in one room for the first time in over two years.

I woke to Hubby’s voice as he grabbed his keys.

“Dad fell; I’m headed to his house.”

When he arrived at my father-in-law’s home, Hubby could tell something wasn’t right. He couldn’t get Dad up, so called an ambulance. He and the two emergency crew members managed to lug Dad’s six-foot-five-inch John Wayne frame into a chair. They talked him into going to the hospital.

Later that morning, doctors determined his hip was broken. As a candidate for surgery, Dad’s prognosis was bright—fall victims unable to have surgery don’t recover well, but those able to have surgery often move back into life just as well as before the fall. When the kids and I arrived at the hospital, Dad was sleeping. I offered to sit with him while Hubby took a nap; our brother-in-law took the kids to the waiting room.

In the peaceful, dark room, I watched dad sleep from the ubiquitous pink vinyl visitors chair. The warm smell of clean, bleached cotton permeated the room, almost overshadowing the sharp odor of disinfectant. A sharp contrast to the calm in the room, nurses bustled past the doorway, half hidden by a curtain.

A few minutes later, the anesthesiologist arrived, flipped on a light and woke Dad to discuss the surgery. I sent a text to notify Hubby, then turned to listen.

You are still a candidate for surgery but as the anesthesiologist, I want you to understand the risk. On a scale of 1 to 5, you’re a 4+. Your heart is not working properly. I need to make sure you are clear about the possible outcomes.

Dad immediately agreed that he understood his risk but wanted to do the surgery anyway. I asked him if he wanted to discuss it with Hubby first.

His eyes locked on mine. Motioning to his hip, he said, “I want to do the surgery. This is no way to live.”

He stared at me for another moment, as though making sure I received his message clearly, then nodded and looked at the anesthesiologist. “I don’t need to talk to anyone. I want the surgery.”

Hubby and my brother-in-law arrived with the kids just as a nurse swept into the room to begin surgery preparation. She allowed us time to give kisses and hugs and pray for Dad. As they wheeled him out, he gave Hubby a thumbs-up.

“I’ll beat this one, too.”

***

Several hours later, the anesthesiologist approached our group, a big smile shining through his droopy mustache.

Your dad came through the surgery just fine. He’ll be in his room in thirty minutes; then you can visit him.

In a collective exhale, our group relaxed.

Hubby chatted with his sister and her husband, their daughters played with phones, our children zoned in to their Kindles.

I tried to decipher a strange feeling, then realized it was mild surprise. I was absolutely happy he’d pulled through. However, I didn’t realize until that moment that I’d thought, during the conversation with the anesthesiologist, that he was telling me he might not make it—that he preferred heaven to living in bed.

And perhaps he was.

We waited.

Thirty minutes came and went.

Finally, the doors opened. The doctor, the nurse and the anesthesiologist appeared together, faces somber. Through the ensuing, one-sided conversation, the young surgeon sat as though in a trance, staring at the floor.

Right after I talked with you, we lost him. 

It was his heart. 

We did everything we could. 

We just couldn’t get him back. 

We did everything we could. 

Everything.

We were stunned. Two families were still traveling in, planning to come to the hospital so the grandkids could see Papa.

Holding each other tight, we sobbed. Several minutes later Hubby and I looked up, realizing together that our children—sitting several feet away—were still absorbed in their Kindle games. Thanks to headphones, they’d missed the tragedy. We experienced it again in their faces as we explained Papa had gone to heaven. Adopted grandchildren grieve just as deeply as biological grandchildren.

***

Take good care of him.

The anesthesiologist’s words have echoed in my mind all week.

I don’t know what caused him to zero in on Hubby. He shadowed us as we walked the empty, sterile hospital halls. He waited as Hubby and I held each other before approaching the bed where Dad’s still form lay. He pulled me aside as our somber group finally trickled away.

Wiping tears from his eyes, he insisted, “we did everything possible. Sometimes ‘everything’ just isn’t enough.” Nodding toward my husband’s retreating back, he said, “Please watch out for him. Take good care of him.” I hugged the good doctor, assuring him I would.

And for the past week, I’ve done my best. I know the toughest months are ahead of us.

We all knew this difficult time would eventually arrive; no one lives on this earth forever.

On the other hand, we didn’t expect it now. 

I’ve been terrified of the day we’d lose Dad because I was afraid it would destroy Hubby. We were all so close, especially since Mom died almost ten years ago. One of my favorite parts of Hubby is his loyalty to family, but I also worried how that loyalty might be torn in death.

Instead of destruction, this death brought something else.

I have never been so proud of my husband as during this week. He worked to create understanding and compromise. Took on tasks others didn’t feel emotionally able to handle. Remained strong support and loving comfort for our kids. Created a fabulous slide show to communicate the incredible story of Dad’s life. Wrote and delivered a heartfelt eulogy at the memorial service. Explained Dad’s faith in Jesus and our certain hope we’ll see him again one day.

 

Hubby is no different than he’s ever been; perhaps I just see him in a different light. Dad, who always reminded me of John Wayne, was larger than life in many ways; his escapades could fill a book and his presence filled the room. I was always focused, as was Hubby, on Dad.

Losing Dad allowed me to see that Hubby is just as much a force to be reckoned with. He generally focused that energy on helping Dad. Now, he’s the one supporting everyone, keeping the family together, guiding us all. He’s the keeper of the family spirit, the source of comfort, the voice of reason and wisdom—and everyone sees it.

I am so proud of him, and I WILL take good care of him.

 

 

I am Dying

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Photo by Jon Bunting

I am dying.

Scary words, until you realize that from the moment we are born, we begin to die.

I am dying. So are you. Dying is a part of living.

As Benjamin Franklin possibly said,

…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

In most circles, death is not an oft-discussed topic, at least publicly.

I’m a bit of an odd duck when it comes to picking friends; most of mine are eligible for the senior coffee discount at McDonald’s.

With age, I suppose, comes a certain awareness that while the end may not be near, it is inevitable. At least once a week, one of my silver-tressed friends tosses out a phrase like,

if I’m still here next year,

or even,

we both know I won’t be here much longer.

Recently, a close friend confided,

I came across a picture of a family reunion. Of at least forty faces, I’m the only one in the photo who is still alive. The realization shook me. 

I often wonder whether other people my age feel the imminence of death in the same way, or if my musings are influenced by the input of my elders, their consistent reminders of mortality.

I want my life to count for something.

I wish to leave my children with good memories.

I hope Hubby can honestly say these were the best years, the most fun he ever had. That he could always tell I love him deeply with every bit of my soul.

I’d like to accomplish something amazing before I die.

All of this is constantly in the forefront of my mind. 

Also, I really don’t want anyone to hate me because they end up with my unfinished business…all the things I was going to use “later,” millions of papers to scan, the mess of notes on my computer, the parts of the house I always plan to clean but end up forgetting they exist (like wiping the top of the refrigerator or under-the-couch dust bunny removal).

Speaking of the mess of notes…will anyone even read them? Maybe Hubby, or the kids. But unless I buckle down and finish a book, they don’t even make sense. Will they think I was crazy, or just disorganized? Maybe I should create a “destroy computer upon my death” note to save everyone from embarrassment (ok, mostly me).

I want to do something. Something real. Something big. Something that matters.

It’s not like I sit around and do nothing. Today, I worked a half-day for my job, changed the sheets on my bed, washed laundry, steam-cleaned two couches and the carpets in two rooms, made meals and helped the Boy organize his room. (He has picked up my “but-I-might-need-this-later” habit…we are both striving to overcome hoarding random objects that might be useful for creating.)

But of the list above, only two of those items have any real meaning (although it’s nice to be clean…and it’s also nice to eat). I am a recruiter, so the time I spent talking with candidates could ultimately pay off in a changed life if they find a job match. And most important of all, the time spent with my son helped solidify a bond.

While we worked, we talked about trust and how Hubby and I work very hard to keep our word even when it means we’re not happy (think promised consequence for certain action). The Boy expressed how difficult it is for him, even after five and a half years, to trust.

Later, when I put him to bed, he hugged me hard and—with a fervor I don’t often see—thanked me several times for helping him. Definitely time well spent.

Especially since I’m dying.

Only one breath stands between me and eternity. One distracted driver. One stray bullet. One disease. One heart attack. One robbery gone wrong.

It’s probably better that I don’t know how I’ll go, or when. I read a story once in which the characters all had a time stamp to let them know when they’d “expire.” If I knew, I might obsess about it (will it hurt? how long will it take?) instead of living. If the date wouldn’t arrive for another 50 years, I might not live with urgency or try to make each day count. After all, 50 years is “plenty” of time.

I just read an article by Ray Stedman called, “How, Then, Should We Live?” encouraging us to “live supportively, live generously, live thoughtfully!” With Georgia mortality on my mind, his writing resonated deeply. The article tends to wander, but I highly recommend you read it—if you do, let me know what you think.

Since I obviously don’t have info regarding the Big Date, I’ve decided to live this upcoming year as if it were my last, with the goal of living supportively, generously and thoughtfully. 

I want 2017 to be the year thinking about death causes me to make a difference, live fully, love absolutely.

Am I crazy? (Wait, don’t answer that…)

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Take the poll.

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