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Preparing for the Inevitable: My Death

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I would like to get familiar with my final resting place, primarily to make sure everything is in good working order, but mostly to dispel any fears I may have or the feeling that I’m going uncontrollably out and away somewhere against my choosing. I don’t want to go just anywhere. I want to go somewhere: where I belong, where I feel safe and comfortable, where I’ve decided to go. I want that place to have a name, something other than the standard etchings.

I’ll be dead and I won’t care, I’m told. That isn’t the point. My loved ones will be there and they will care. If I’m not comfortable there now, how can they be expected to be comfortable there then? I’ve got to order a comfortable bench and some tulip bulbs. Tulips are my favorite flower, and it seems a bit much to trouble others with bringing flowers when I could just grow my own year after year.

The only thing worse than having no say over such things is the idea of forcing that say onto someone else, especially someone I love. It is once again time to update what is already in writing — something a few choice relatives of mine did not do, which their family paid for dearly on many levels, not the least of which was with a great deal of cash.

My father-in-law’s estate was a mess in the most literal sense of the word. Leaving this world without a will was the least of his not so fond farewells to the son who had done everything he could for him. That man — and I use the term loosely — was a spoiled child, grew up to be a spoiled husband, became a spoiled widow who turned to his elementary-aged children for spoils they couldn’t possibly have provided, and died, having allowed his entire life to spoil around him.

That a rented dumpster, the Environmental Protection Agency, the fire department, law enforcement, and the bomb squad were required to safely dispose of the contents of his life speaks volumes of the way he conducted himself without regard for another human being. That his children knew nothing about that which would later be wired to explode in the middle of a landfill — causing secondary explosions that sent seagull feathers in every direction — speaks to the insipid secrecy and indulgence with which he lived.

His carelessness with all things cost a lot of people a lot of money, left an entire neighborhood unknowingly in a great deal of danger, and put the final nail in the coffin of any hope for a loving, selfless relationship with his children. It’s true that funerals are for the living, and never was this made more poignant than when years of people sincerely and genuinely greeted my husband at his father’s graveside, giving only obligatory attention to its contents.

My mother, may she rest in peace, did often assert that she’d prepared for her death. She refused to go into detail, and I would later realize this was her way of avoiding telling anyone just how little she’d done. She did assign an executor, but this person was not given a to-do list so much as a blank sheet of paper upon which to write tasks. For all intent and purposes, my mother died intestate (without a will), leaving her executor to simultaneously grieve and work. I can’t think of a less loving infliction.

She wasn’t a rich woman and had only a few meager possessions. The bulk of her estate was sentimental: thousands of photographs and dozens of reels of 8mm film. Ours was not a family fight over money. It was a fight against time. We had less than two weeks to clear and clean her house to avoid being on the hook for another month’s rent and utilities.

Her life insurance settlement was a partial regurgitation of the premiums she’d paid (may those rotgut bastards rot in hell), so there wasn’t a plethora of funds with which to work. This made the work all the more taxing and tedious, as death is one of the few times in life when a difficult thing really could be made easier by throwing money at it.

I rest in peace now before I rest in peace elsewhere, because I know I’ve not left behind chaos in place of “I love you.” It’s been my experience that urging others to do the same falls on deaf ears, so I would only encourage those without final plans to at least have the decency to apologize in advance.

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About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.
  • http://www.joannehuspek.wordpress.com Joanne Huspek

    Wow, so true. People don’t realize what kind of mess is left behind. Only after living it, do you start to see that the most loving thing to leave your relatives is a tidy exit.

    My own mother died young and I believe it was a shock to her that she had a heart attack at 58 when she was so active and athletic. The remains of her estate was more convoluted and intertwined than anyone could have imagined.

    I can’t even go into my house anymore without looking around and thinking “If I go today, how will the kids find anything?”

  • Dr. Juliann Mitchell, PhD

    Diane,
    When I lived in Pittsburgh I visited my favorite funeral director and planned my funeral with music choices, Scripture, the whole nine yards. I did it after I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disorder and obviously had no control over the outcone of my life but I did over my funeral plans. The funeral director thought I was crazy. I chose a casket to match my dining room suite, etc. Unfortunately I have moved twice since then and am no longer even within close driving distance of Pittsburgh. So now I’m thinking I need to start all over again, besides I decided cremation was the way to go. I need to find an urn instead of a casket. I have a great affinity for zebras. Hmmm. . .a striped urn is looking pretty good. Because you know so little in life is really black and white.

  • http://mybellringers.blogspot.com Carol Richtsmeier

    My father is in the last stages of cancer, and we have been in the process of getting things in order for quite a while. This task has fallen to me and has been a draining and daunting process even with him alive to help get his affairs in order. It’s so difficult and emotional to package up 79 years of someone’s life especially when you love them dearly. But I can’t image how horrible it would have been to do this without his guidance. You are absolutely right that planning for one’s death is truly the best gift anyone can give those they love.

  • The Obnoxious American

    you’re being a bit too hard on your father in law. So what if he had some explosives or made a mess? If he was wealthy then you’d be calling him eccentric. I don’t know the guy and perhaps he was a bad guy but it sounds like anything interesting about him, from making a mess to being indulgent is instantly bad. If we jailed every indulgent, messy person in the world, the entire place would be a jail. Give the guy a break.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/diana_hartman diana hartman

    dear ob-am,

    the man spent an inherited fortune on his hobbies, never worked a day in his life, and refused to spend a dime on repairing the electric, water or heat – leaving two children to fend for themselves every day for over ten years…he did not cook, launder, clean or repair (nor did he hire anyone to do these things)…

    he was not eccentric…he was selfish and defined his existence by that which he felt he was entitled, to include the subservience of his children…

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    I’ve been troubled about the circumstances after my death for a while now.

    I don’t want to be cremated, on the possibly egotistical grounds that when you are turned into ashes every trace of you right down to the DNA level is destroyed. As a non-smoker, the thought of being turned into the contents of an ashtray is repulsive.

    However, not being troubled by the god delusion, I have always felt uncomfortable with the idea of being buried in the grounds of some church or other.

    Happily, since my return to the UK, I have discovered there is a non-religious woodland burial site just a few miles away and I am planning to go there in the not too distant future and book myself a double plot.

    Now I just need to get a will done.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Both my parents, z”l, died intestate. When you are poor, it doesn’t matter that much. My father, z”l, didn’t believe in life insurance (or maybe he couldn’t afford it), but he left tools and boots I use to this day. My mother, z”l, left a diagram where she was trying to lay out the family. Other than that, she left debts. Well, that is not exactly fair: she left me a pistol, a bunch of photographs, a good set of silverware, and loads of books – that I couldn’t take with me.

    Now, if she had been rich, or if my dad had been rich, and they left no will, leaving the State of New York to arbitrate between me and my sister, I would have been royally pissed. Too many family feuds develop over furniture, invitations, jewelry and things that in the end are meaningless. But poor people leave behind what they use. And we, the living, take what we need and toss the rest, stifling sobs along the way.

    I’m not rich. I kind of have a will, but am not of a mind to spend the money to get some Israeli lawyer to put it into Hebrew legalese for me. The best thing I can leave for my wife and sons is that our sons have decent characters, love G-d, and that my wife can achieve some modicum of happiness after I die.

    I’ll regret dying and not having some books or stories published before I die. But if that is what happens, then it will have been me who did not live up to his potential, and it will have been me who bore responsibility for not having done so.

  • The Obnoxious American

    Diana,

    I just think you are being a bit too judgemental here. Who isn’t selfish, or a bit self absorbed, certainly none of us who get thrills from seeing our own words displayed across the internet can claim to be free of any selfishness. Could our times be better spent focusing on helping our families a little more than typing away on some website to a bunch of people we don’t know?

    My parents didn’t especially provide for me either, from a young age, I had to fend for myself and make something out of my self with 2 strikes against. But I still love my parents, first for giving me life, second for instilling values in me and imparting their good genetics. Plus I just love them. Perhaps they weren’t always there or always as responsible as they could have been. But they are human.

    Let those without sin cast the first stone. To err is human, to forgive is divine.

  • The Obnoxious American

    Wait, here is one more bromide that I favor:

    “I’m the one that’s got to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life, the way I want to”

    – jimi hendrix

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/diana_hartman diana hartman

    “Could our times be better spent focusing on helping our families a little more than typing away on some website to a bunch of people we don’t know?

    that’s a good question…what is your answer?

  • The Obnoxious American

    Diana,

    Isn’t it obvious? My point was, we are all guilty of being self indulgent. Don’t judge, lest ye be judged, throwing stones, etc etc?

    I think people have a right to their vices, and it’s tough to be judgemental. As I get older, I understand more and more some of the issues my dad faced, and it helps me understand why he did some things that I didn’t agree with. perhaps your father-in-law had his reasons for his behavior, perhaps he felt he was entrapped into marriage. perhaps his wife should have been more discrimating in choosing a father to her children. Or none of those things. Who knows. All I am saying is, who are you to judge? Would you want a daughter in law of yours to be judging you? Trust me, it will happen (right or wrong). It’s all about understanding.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/diana_hartman diana hartman

    ob-am, consider for a moment that it is sometimes safer for the human heart, especially that of a child, minor or grown, to “understand” a neglectful parent rather than risk the withdrawal of love that might come from holding the parent accountable for their neglect…

  • The Obnoxious American

    Lolll turnabout is fair play :> that said, there was a time when I did reject my parents. Live and learn.