Friday, September 18, 2015

Let's Talk About Death

Death isn't a pleasant thing to think about. It comes for each of us, sometimes creeping up by years, sometimes in an instant.

For the person who has died, I believe death is just a transition into a different stage. Call it Post-Life Energy pool, Heaven, Summerlands, The Cauldron of Rebirth. None of us know.

But for those left behind, there is pain. Many Christians will try not to mourn or cry, thinking it's self-indulgent and they should be happy for the loved one in heaven. I encountered this when Mom died. I reminded her best friend, whose own mother had chastised her for crying, that it's not wrong. The shortest verse in the Bible is "Jesus wept." He wept when he was brought news of Lazarus' death. He wept even though he knew he would be raising his friend within the hour. It hurts. A part of your life has been cut away and the raw edges HURT. Grieve as needed.

And there are logistical problems.
As my husband prepares to bury his best friend, neither of them past 50 or expecting it, this is much on my mind.

First and foremost, know when and how you WANT to die.
My mother was always very firm, no heroic measures. No ventilator, no feeding tube. She might even have considered haunting us about the pressers, which kept her blood pressure up when it was crashing. Know when YOU think death occurs. Make your wishes known to the family. "No machines" is a valid choice. "Give me every chance" is as well.  Talk to your family about it.

My position is no heroic measures, no machines.
If CPR can bring me back, administer it. If I can be restarted with a defib, do it.
If you're just keeping my body alive on machines and my brain is gone, no way. No ventilator. No feeding tube.

Now, let's say you're gone. Your family has a dead body on their hands, and possibly no one to help. If you have
outlined your wishes, you will make things much easier on them.  The simplest thing you can do is make a will and appoint an executor. This will cover all these things.

1) Know how you want your body disposed of.

Do you have an organ donor card? Let your family know.
(Be aware, some diseases and medical treatments can invalidate the card. My grandfather suffered malaria. My mother was in chemo. Neither of them could donate even skin)
Are you donating to science?
Do you want to be cremated?
Do you want a full burial?
Is there a different option?  (I hear half of you yelling "Viking funeral!" Cute, but this is serious time. Although I may send a handful on Mom's ashes out on a toy ship next Lilies' War)

2) Know where you want the remains to rest.

Is your SO going to keep them in a candy box?
Are you to be buried in the family plot 500 miles away?
Have your parents sold your burial plot to a complete stranger? (the last is a true story. My grandparents had a 3 space burial plot. When my uncle died, my mother found out my grandparents had sold the third plot to a family in need. My uncle's urn was buried atop my grandfather's coffin)

3) How are you going to pay for this?

Everything costs. Cremation. obituary placement, everything.
Even the most basic cardboard box cremation is about $600.
Church funerals are even more expensive.

Have a plan. Pay in advance if possible. Otherwise, your descendants end up having a garage sale to pay for your cremation. (We raised about $400, and the church covered the other $200)
Insurance is lovely but the red tape can take days and weeks. Also, if your descendants can't FIND the policy, there's a problem.

4) What do you do with awkward personal items?

Mom wore dentures. So do I. Unlike eyeglasses or hearing aids, which can be donated to Lions Club or Rotary, dentures can't be donated or re-purposed. It feels disrespectful to chuck them in the trash. They can be put in the urn afterward. (Mom's are on my altar, at the feet of Mother Hera)

My grandfather left behind condoms. There are those who have extensive sex toy or photograph collections. The best thing to do is to designate one good friend (not your spouse) to handle these things.

5) What about your personal items?

Ideally, you should have a household inventory. If you have a will, and you really should, you can add the inventory, designating who gets what. Keep it up to date. (mine needs revising)

6) What happens to your intellectual property? And what about other people's intellectual property that you hold rights to?

Make the darn will!
This is more for writers and artists and publishers. Who gets royalties after you die? Do you have a designated trustee or executor for these things?  Talk to an estate planner.

7) Inform your family.

Let them know your wishes. Let them know how much life insurance you carry and where to find it upon your demise. Distribute items before you die, if possible. My grandmother was forever sending me home with stuff she didn't need, because she'd rather watch me enjoy it while she was alive.

Sort out the work. Who is in charge of the music and making a memorial video? What songs would you like on it? Who has to write the obituary? Who calls the pastor and the rest of the family?

8) The Send Off

Not all of us follow the same faiths as our parents or our spouses or our children. As such, we may be called upon to deal in religious traditions not our own. My husband's friend, a life-long agnostic, is being laid to rest by a Mormon service. (He'll probably be baptized into the faith as well)  He is beyond caring and the funeral is for his widow and family.

But if the idea of being laid out in a Baptist church and having an invitation pronounced over your Wiccan corpse (or vice versa) is appalling, let your family know. If, like Mom, you were lucky enough to have advance warning, work with your clergy member to endure the service is what you want. And let your family know.

My husband is still a Christian, although not a member of any church. I would not bury him with the same rites I give the cats: with the invocation of the Crone. But there are many parents who would bury their pagan children with Christian ritual. Make your wishes known to many people.

No comments: