good life, good death, good grief

The Reluctant Planner's Guide to Death and Dying

Getting started

At Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief we are always urging people to get their affairs in order. Have the conversation about your future wishes for care and funerals and what happens if you’re incapacitated now while you’re calm, healthy and thinking rationally. Make sure your family and friends know what you want to happen after death. Don’t leave a financial and potentially family-breaking mess to sort by dying without a will.

This is great advice.

But in a classic example of “do as I say, not as I do”, we’re not always that great at following through on that ourselves. I started my role as Development Manager with the sobering realisation I have none of this in place myself. Moreover, I didn’t really know where to start. I knew what these things were, I knew where to find all the information about them on our website, I knew I’d get round to it eventually. But people have died waiting to get round to things eventually…

To say I’ve done nothing isn’t strictly true. I have talked. Like many people, I’ve had the “songs you’d have at your funeral” pub conversation, and somewhere there’s an e-mail to some close friends with detailed musical directions, including a graveside singalong I wouldn’t really expect them to fulfil (even if they were still around to deliver it). And yes, it would be a graveside singalong. I expect most of my nearest and dearest to know I want burying, not cremating.

But that’s exactly the problem – I expect them to know. This is not noted anywhere, except now here in a public forum (and exactly what weight does electronic media have?) What if my nearest and dearest aren’t around to bury me? What if my grief-stricken friends can’t find that half-joking e-mail they’ve forgotten I sent them 15 years ago?

The other thing I can say is: at least I do know what I want. The matter has been given due consideration. I’ve discussed it at enough death cafes over the years (not that you should need a café to talk about these things). But actually - do I really know what I want? I can plan my funeral like other people plan weddings, no problem, but that’s the easy bit. That’s the thing that will definitely be happening. What about the things that might happen? One of the things that strikes me is I don’t have the medical knowledge to know what sort of things I should be considering. If I’m 97 and unable to breathe without intervention, it might be time to let me slip away. But how often is it that clear cut? I want to save my loved ones the agony of dilemma in all circumstances where I’m unable to represent my own feelings. But exactly what circumstances should I be considering? What interventions should I be permitting or denying?

There’s one other thing pressing on my mind. Part of the reason I’ve never done any of this stuff before is 1.) I’ve had no assets to leave behind, 2.) I’ve never had anyone particular to leave it to, 3.) my life has been so changeable, that as soon as anything was drawn up, it’d need changing again. Until now, the approach had been: my parents brought me into this world, they can see me out of it if needs be. Many people will find themselves thinking similar thoughts, assuming the same things about the family around them. But now I’m recently engaged, co-habiting and a new father. Things now affect others much more. And, as I’ve already learned, the assumptions we make about next of kin and what they can take care of, are not always true.

And so, in the course of however many blog posts it takes, I’m going to get my house in order, and explain how I went about it, how it felt, and what I learnt. Hopefully, I’ll feel more empowered when I’ve done what needs to be done. Hopefully, I won’t die before I’m finished. But you never know…

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Sandra Scott on December 20 2017 at 18:04

Thank you so much Rob, I am looking forward to seeing your next blog stay well and alive. :)

Kenny Steele on December 5 2017 at 12:09

Thanks Rob. Please stay alive as I hope to follow you on this journey and get my own house in order....looking forward to the next instalment.

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