Spouse and I had a goal for one of our vacation days (yesterday): to plan for the end of our lives! What?
We had been neglecting this project for years and planning this day for months. It was a process. We recently met with our lawyer to update our wills, powers of attorney, health care directives. We set up a living trust for our son and carefully thought through the various scenarios and our wishes--what do we want if one of us dies first, what do we want if both of us dies at the same time, what do we want for pain management or if left in a vegetative state, when should our son inherit the house and money, who gets custody of him. We developed a plan for distribution of assets and heirlooms and even managed to deal with those tricky family relational problems. Big ideas!
We rented a safe deposit box at the bank to house our original wills and other essential documentation. We relocated the fireproof safe to a better location in the house, secured it to the floor as instructed, and managed to fill it with organized copies of documents and other valuables. We even made a CD of essential information and documents and contact information to distribute to the trustees and executors listed in the documents (what good is having power of attorney if your power of attorney isn't aware or if s/he doesn't have a copy of the actual document when needed?). Okay, we even took photographs of the essential heirlooms with some basic instruction for distribution and attached them to our wills. No muss, no fuss!
So this is what I know: Life is complicated and life is unpredictable. Anything can happen. We know this. So plan for the unplanned. Also, and probably the tougher thing to do, is take responsibility for the choices I have made! It is my obligation to take responsibility for my family and its well being, including (and most important) my minor child. It is my obligation and duty to provide calm for my son in a perfect storm scenario even when that means I have to wrestle with the sadness and pain and discomfort of scenarios around my own death. My desire is not to control the world from my grave; it is, however, to see that my resources and hard work go to support my son and the people I care for and who will stand in my value system. While I may be dead, I want my mission to carry on through my son, my surviving spouse, my extended family.
I am struck by the number of people in my life who are distressed when I tell them about my end-of-life planning goal. I am struck by how smart people, many of them parents, who will not talk about the possibility of a tragedy in their lives and what they want to have happen in any scenario. I am struck by how we accept that if we don't talk about it, it won't happen, or worse yet, it is not a problem. I wonder, what amount of discomfort you are willing to walk through in order to do the right thing? I wonder, if you live your life in a planful way, what holds you back from planning for your death and beyond? I wonder, if you do not live your life in a planful way, what do you expect at the end? Will your death be remembered as a chaotic, painful, legal and tax and custody mess or will it be a peaceful, easy, calm, connective time? Will you be remembered for creating a mess or for managing an orderly and loving transition. We can actually do something about this!
A dying man told me once that we die as we have lived...nothing new happens at that time...we die the way we lived. I live in a manner that is strategic, prepared, thoughtful, mindful of purpose, engaging of others. And by doing the hard work today, I am hopeful the end of my life--whatever scenario unfolds--will be the same.
I will rest in peace.
P.S. Everyone should do their end of life planning but if you have complicated relationships (not the norm!) and this topic matters to you, you may want to seek advice from a lawyer and get planning now. Same sex couples, unmarried committed couples, family estrangements, single parents, and a whole host of other scenarios and structures are not easily supported if left unplanned. The law is not on our creative, make-it-up, family of choice side. And death left unplanned makes for a whole lot of IRS and Heir messiness that can be avoided or minimized with some careful planning.