By Helena Dolny
Published by City Press 21 July 2013
Let's Talk About Dying 2: Check List for Checking Out
When my husband died, my oldest daughter had just turned fifteen and her younger sister was ten years old. In the months that followed I worried about “What happens to them if something happens to me?” I made a new will. I opened a bank account in my daughter’s name and deposited “Emergency Money.” Joe’s dying taught me that bank accounts get closed on death and that access to money is not that simple or speedy. I showed my daughters where to find the file: Mum – In the event of my death.
Was I unnaturally preoccupied? A bullet coming through the skylight of my kitchen three years later makes me think that ever-readiness for death is not unreasonable. Bad stuff happens all the time to people I know, surely it’s the same for you? A friend was a passenger in a car. There was a head-on collision. She is the only survivor of the eight people involved in the accident. A father waited for his son to come to the school car park after the cricket match. He sat in the car and on his cell phone. The cell phone thieves left him dead with a bullet in his head. The hijacking in my driveway: a member of my family listened to the thieves discussing, “Shall we kill him or shall we not?” How many of us have our own stock of these stories?
So are you ready if something were to happen to you today? Somehow we seem to think that it won’t happen to us. The incidents above all involved sudden death. Each person left their home that day expecting to return. There was no reason for any special goodbyes with loved ones.
In terms of readiness for dying, this is my work-in-progress checklist:
- Conversations: All the people I love must know what they mean to me in my life. If there are relationships in which forgiveness needs to be asked for or offered- it’s been done. Any ongoing unresolved stuff is receiving my best effort at this point in time.
- My Will: This is about what happens to what I own. Is my current will comprehensive? Have I done enough good thinking? Did I change the beneficiaries of my pension funds? What about covering my mum’s medical costs? Who gets which painting? What about mementos to special friends?
- Power of Attorney: I’m currently lucid and can write my signature – but what I do need to have drawn up in case of emergency (i.e. the car accident that puts me in a coma)?
- My Living Will: What end-of-life interventions are acceptable to me? Have I registered my document and left a copy with my doctor?
- Advance Directives: It’s true I’ve hit menopause - and now I’m a candidate for dementia. What would my current conscious competent self like to stipulate for if I lose my mind?
- My body: Do I want to donate body parts for medical purposes or not?
- My funeral: How would I like family and friends to mark my exit out of this world? Rituals create frameworks that are comforting and this is as much about them as it is about me.
- My remains: Do I want to be buried? I have a plot available in Avalon Cemetery Soweto, alongside Joe. Or have things changed? Would I prefer cremation and for my ashes to be scattered? If so where? My brother tells me he wants an “eco-burial” in a designated woodland.
- My Passwords. My PIN numbers: I need to know that my family can access my phone. They might want to let my friends know I’m dead. And what about my computer password? Someone told me of a man who had taken the trouble to write out in detail his entire funeral wishes. But he never printed them and his wife could not open his computer.
I stare at my list. That’s the practical stuff. You could have all that in place and still not feel ready. Being ready in your head - isn’t that the bigger challenge?