My sister Barb died on November 25, 2020.
Just when you ask if 2020 can get any worse, it does!
You would think that after experiencing the death of my wife Mary in 2018, my ability to accept the death of my eighty-six-year-old sister might be easier. After all, I had learned from my first and most painful experience so many of the things you need to know. Like, how and when to cry – and how and when it is better to hold back tears when you are in a crowd. I had learned how to accept the advice I got from others on how to cope – even if it wasn’t always the kind of advice I wanted to hear at that time. You know, after the first death, that this pain will dissipate over time and fond memories are likely to take the place of this current overwhelming sorrow.
In business, you call each iteration of an experience a learning curve and you get better, not bitter, with each experience. The things that challenge you, make you stronger and more valuable. Your expertise is sought out and you often revel in being a teacher or a mentor. When it comes to death and the grieving process, things get reversed. Through the death of a loved one, you may learn how to deal with funeral directors, church officials, banks, lawyers and so many of the people/organizations. But there is no promotion, no joy in experiencing the death of a loved one.
Why does each death occupy as much or sometimes even more pain in your heart than the first experience If anything, losing someone in your family reminds you of where you are place in the family hierarchy. The only thing between you and another death in the family might be your own departure from this world. You begin to look at the family history of what ages they died and what illnesses they had to cause them to die. And you look at yourself and quietly ask if those same conditions reside in your body. Will you be the victim of your family DNA? We search for answers not only for our those who have passed but for ourselves.
When a second or a third death in the family happens, we most certainly will not be able to stop the pain. But maybe we can use the experience in a way to make us feel stronger and wiser?
From my experience, the best thing we can do for those that will be given the “job” of taking care of our after-life arrangements would be the following top 10 iniatives:
1 Discuss your wishes around “Do not resuscitate” and make it clear and in writing what you would want in the event you cannot speak for yourself.
2 Look at the federal death with dignity program called MAID and determine if ,and when, it might be for you. It takes lots of planning if you decide to use it.
3 While you need to communicate with everyone, you should formally assign one person who will be your “spokesperson”. This is called your Power of Attorney. Life and death decisions at this point should not be left up to a committee.
4 Make a will. Let everyone know that it is done and what it says. Assign an executor that can do the job. This should be someone who lives in the same country as you do and someone who is good at details and, often, someone who has the financial strength to deal with any protracted issues such as the interim period between your death and the sale of assets ( house, cottage, trailer, boat etc.)
5 Tell everyone in the family your wishes for burial – coffin or cremation. Funeral service or celebration of life- or nothing – family plot or spreading of ashes –
6 Make a list of your passwords – better yet, change all your password to just one (I know people tell you this is not good, but if you are dying it does not matter). This holds true especially for banks and social media accounts. Write down the answers to identity questions. No one in your family, but you, is likely to know your first car or your best friend in high school…
7 Do not leave the remaining family with a household full of photos and memorabilia that they will have to sort through and distribute. I suggest you create memory boxes while you are still alive. Boxes that will be given to each person in the family based on what they want or would be interested in receiving after your death. You might even consider putting labels on furniture.
8 Do not burden your relatives with your “collections”. Unless someone says they would like your coins, tools or “antique trains”, assign them to a specific memory box of giveaways and give or sell them before you “go”.
9 Create a journal of memories or important events and dates including some closet “secret” type information that might be valuable to the family once you are gone. Put the information in an envelope and have it sent by your executor to the appropriate person upon your death.
10 Do not try to get your name of fcharity mailing lists. It is a waste of time. Give it up, and understand that years after you are gone, a loved one will get several pieces of mail on an annual basis with your name on the envelope.
My observations on family deaths is that it is not the death itself that tears people apart, it is often the aftermath. Dealing with the emotional side is difficult. Dealing with the physical aftermath is exhausting and potentially harmful to those that are forced to deal with the aftermath.
The death of a relative never gets easy. You can make it more bearable by what you leave behind.
Now having said all that, I must go buy some memory boxes, I also have to have a few long overdue discussions.