11/7/17

How to Help Your Kids Cope With the Loss of the Family Pet

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Pets are part of the family, so it makes sense that losing one is tough on everyone, including our children. A pet’s death may be the first time they’ve ever experienced a real loss, and as a parent, it can be difficult to know how to start a conversation about life, death, and grieving in a way they can understand, but that won’t heighten their sadness.

Last week, we put our 12-year-old dog to sleep five weeks after he was diagnosed with lymphoma. It was a brief but rapidly debilitating illness, and I wondered if my kids would understand that a dog who was quite healthy only two months ago was now gone. Surprisingly, they took it much better than I did. My 3-year-old gave me a hug, then told me, “I don’t know why you’re crying, Mom. Gus was sick, and now he’s in heaven with grandma’s dog. He’s not sad he died. He’s still happy.”

After briefly wondering if my child was a pet psychic, I realized that his logic was pretty sound. While my son would miss our dog, he knew our pup had been suffering, and he was prepared for the death. He had processed the loss faster and more easily than I did precisely because he was a kid. If you’re dealing with the loss of a family pet, here’s how to help your children process their feelings.

  1. Make sure your child understands what death means. Gently make sure that your child understands that their pet’s death means the animal will never be physically present again. Don’t be alarmed if it takes awhile — even years depending on their age — for your child to understand that means that your pet can no longer breathe, feel, or ever be alive again. If the death was sudden or unexpected, explaining why or how your pet died might be important to help your child understand the permanence of the loss. Of course, consider your child’s age and ability to understand and only give them developmentally appropriate information.
  2. Be honest. Telling your child about the death openly and truthfully lets your child know that it’s not bad to talk about death or sad feelings, an important lesson as they will have to process many other losses throughout their lives.
  3. Follow your child’s lead. Sometimes children are better than adults at accepting loss, especially when they’ve known for some time that their pet had a limited life span or was ill. Don’t attempt to make your child’s grief mirror your own, but do validate any emotions that come up as your child goes through the mourning process, and be ready to talk when they have questions. Age-appropriate books like Sally Goes to Heaven and I’ll Always Love You can also help with communication.
  4. Don’t be surprised if your child grieves in doses. Children often spend a little time grieving, then return to playing or another distraction. This normal, necessary behavior prevents them from becoming overwhelmed and makes the early days of grief more bearable for them.
  5. Say a formal goodbye. Consider having a small memorial service where you can all say goodbye, discuss favorite memories, and thank your pet for being part of the family, even if the service is just in your backyard or around the kitchen table.
  6. Find a way to memorialize your pet appropriately. We often don’t realize how constant our pets were in our lives until they’re gone. By making a photo album, turning a collar into a Christmas ornament, or commissioning personalized art work through Etsy, your whole family will have a positive remembrance of your beloved pet for a lifetime.

Complete Article HERE!

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11/6/17

Don’t want ‘heroic measures’ as part of your end-of-life care? Have the conversation

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intubated patient in hospital, intubatation at intensive care unit room respiratory machine with oxygen ventilation monitor

By Allison Bond

For one month this spring, my job as a senior resident in a large teaching hospital entailed racing around the hospital, managing patients who had rapidly become sicker; I wore running shoes every day. I also led every code, orchestrating a team of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and pharmacists in an effort to resuscitate patients after their hearts had stopped. Some of the very sick patients under my care had do-not-resuscitate orders, but most didn’t. For them, my team and I provided whatever treatments we could.

One night, a colleague asked me to see Mr. S, a middle-aged patient with worrisome vital signs.

Arriving at his bedside, my colleague, Dave, and I saw a sluggish, pale man — he’d been in the hospital for almost a month with life-threatening infections. He answered my questions with brief but cogent statements until he suddenly stopped moving, his eyes staring blankly at the wall. I felt for a pulse. There wasn’t one.

“Call a code blue,” I said as calmly as I could, referring to the all-hands-on-deck alert that a patient’s heart had stopped. Dave began doing chest compressions, pressing rhythmically and firmly on Mr. S’s chest, taking the place of the heart in circulating blood throughout his body. I stood at the foot of the bed as the resuscitation team rushed in. A breathing tube wouldn’t pass down Mr. S’s windpipe, so a surgeon performed a cricothyrotomy, cutting a hole in the throat so we could insert a tube to help him breathe. As we paused chest compressions to check for a pulse, 15 wide-eyed faces looked to me to tell them what to do next. Although most in attendance had been involved in attempts to resuscitate patients before, the adrenaline-fueled brutality universal to codes is nearly impossible to get used to. Mr. S’s heart still wasn’t pumping, so we continued.

A few moments later, his arms flailed, thanks to the blood the chest compressions were sending to his brain and the rest of his body. The intern who had taken over for Dave paused in alarm. Another resident reassured her this simply meant her compressions were strong, and urged her to continue pushing.

After more compressions and injections of medicines to bring up the blood pressure and restart the heart, Mr. S’s began to beat faintly. Stable for the moment, we moved him to the intensive care unit. His prognosis was grave, so his family opted against future resuscitations. Later that day, his heart stopped again — that time forever.

We may have revived Mr. S, at least for a few hours, but I’m not sure we really helped him. Were our actions what he truly wanted?

Most people whose hearts suddenly stop don’t survive. Of the more than 200,000 Americans every year who go into cardiac arrest in the hospital, only about one-quarter make it out of the hospital alive. Of those, nearly 30 percent are seriously disabled.

Doctors often don’t adequately convey these grim outcomes; many patients remain falsely optimistic, tending to overestimate their chances of surviving a cardiac arrest. And few people understand what the resuscitation process truly entails, and how these efforts often lead to a painful, undignified death. Recent research also shows that patients and caregivers tend not to be on the same page when it comes to what level of disability or pain might be acceptable to a patient in the future, including after a code.

There’s got to be a way to close these gaps.

The solution starts with a conversation between doctors and their patients about what the end of life might look like. In an effort to make these discussions more common, Medicare now allows doctors to count such discussions, known as advance care planning, as a topic worthy of a doctor’s visit — and of reimbursement under a new billing code — if patients are open to it. Since this change took effect Jan. 1, 2016, nearly 575,000 patients and 23,000 providers have participated in such reimbursed conversations. Of course, there’s plenty of room for improvement: Although that’s almost twice as many conversations as predicted by the American Medical Association, it’s only 1 percent of all people enrolled in Medicare.

It may seem ridiculous to need to pay doctors to have these conversations. Yet given the myriad demands on doctors’ time, making this conversation reimbursable puts it on equal footing with measuring blood pressure, discussing an irregular heartbeat, and other topics long considered vital parts of a doctor visit. These conversations aren’t simply something that are nice to do; they are an incredibly important part of the way patients live and die.

Yet this initiative faces opposition by lawmakers whose fundamental misunderstanding of advance care planning risks seriously harming patients. One such example is the dangerously misnamed Protecting Life Until Natural Death Act, proposed by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) this past January. The bill calls for excluding end-of-life discussions from Medicare reimbursement, discouraging doctors from having these important conversations. That’s a problem because in the American medical system, the default position is to do everything possible to revive a patient unless he or she requests otherwise. And in reality, there’s nothing natural about a death prolonged by painful chest compressions, endless needle sticks, and a breathing tube forced down the throat, especially when such efforts are usually futile. In fact, some experts have proposed changing the term “do not resuscitate” to “allow natural death” to better reflect the realities of end-of-life care.

There’s no doubt heroic measures save some lives — but they aren’t what everyone wants. That’s why end-of-life discussions are essential for protecting patients and empowering them to make clear, well-informed decisions that let doctors do right by them. It’s absolutely vital that we keep these conversations going.

Complete Article HERE!

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11/4/17

Here’s what traditional funerals are like in the Philippines

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Blindfolded bodies and hanging coffins – the unusual funerals of the Philippines

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – OCTOBER 31: A coffin is placed on a tombstone during a funeral at the Navotas public cemetery on October 31, 2011 in Manila, Philippines. The ‘Day of the Dead (Todos Los Santos), ‘All Saints’ Day,’ and ‘All Souls Day’ are feast days celebrated on the first and second of November each year in Latin cultures around the world during which family and friends of the deceased gather around these days at cemeteries to pray and hold vigils for those who have passed. In the Philippines, family members clean the tombs, leave flowers and often spend the night at the tomb eating and celebrating with loved ones.

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Here in Blighty, we tend to stick to the same tried and tested funeral traditions.

Save for religious elements, funerals in Glasgow aren’t too different from those in Preston; funerals in Wells are largely the same as funerals in Norwich.

This is not the case in the Philippines.

The country is largely Catholic (recent estimates suggest around 80 per cent) with a smaller demographic of Filipino Muslims. But in the more remote areas, tribal traditions, passed down over centuries, dictate some seemingly unconventional funeral customs that are practiced to this day.

From under-floor burials to hanging coffins, cigarette-smoking corpses to in-tree interment, each rite has the same intent: to offer the dead safe passage to the next life.

Blindfolds and cigarettes

Benguet is a landlocked province in the southern tip of the island of Luzon.

When someone dies here, friends and relatives start to convene at the deceased person’s house.

The body is cleaned, and a few of the men are dispatched to collect bamboo, which they then fashion into a chair – and this is where the body is seated.

Once secured in place with more bamboo and strips of cloth, the body is blindfolded so that the deceased does not have to bear witness to the suffering in the world.

A fire is lit to fend off insects and act as a beacon should the deceased’s spirit wander and be unable to find its way home.

This period lasts for eight days and, as you might expect, the body begins to decay.

This holds no fear for the Benguet people – in fact, they make jokes about the smell, and happily offer alcoholic drinks to the body during the mourning feast.

The night before the funeral, elders give a chanted, oral biography of the deceased and as the body is buried, mourners hit bamboo sticks together in the belief it will help the departed find their way to heaven.

The Benguet’s near neighbours, the people of Tinguian, also seat their dead in a prominent position, with a couple of small discrepancies: the Tinguian dress their deceased in their finest clothes then place a cigarette – which is frequently lit – between their lips.

For the llongot people in the mountains the east of Luzon, being seated is integral to burial, rather than the wake.

Corpses are buried sitting up and women have their hands tied to their feet to prevent their ghosts from roaming.

Home is where the heart is

The Apayao – also referred to as the Isnegs or Isnags – inhabit the area around the north of Luzon.

They live mostly along rivers, in large airy homes that sit atop wooden posts, and when they lose relatives, the custom is to bury them under the kitchen area.

It is a unique practice thought to be a sign of love and affection for the deceased.

A natural approach

Not all Filipino tribes keep their dead at home. Further north, the Caviteño have adopted an approach that returns their loved ones to the earth.

As they near the end of life, people of the Cavite venture into the forest and select a favoured tree.

As they ail, their family builds them a small hut in which the dying person will reside for their final days.

They are not alone: relatives and friends work to hollow out the chosen tree trunk as this is where the newly deceased will be buried.

The Cavite people return the deceased to nature as nature provided for them in life: trees are a source of fruit and fire wood that sustain life, so life is given back to the tree.

Closer to heaven

view of Sagada from the rice fields , a colourful village in north of Luzon island in Philippines South east asia

The people in the Sagada region have an interment ritual that is unusual, even among the Filipino tribes.

For more than 2,000 years the people in this mountainous area have hung their coffins from cliffs – coffins that are carved out of hollow logs by the elderly person about to make imminent use of it.

The theory is that by hanging the coffins in this way, the deceased are closer to heaven.

If a person is too frail or ill, the family makes the coffin on their behalf, and after the death the coffin is taken to a cave or hung to reach aspects of the cliff face, placed close to their ancestors.

Some of the coffins are more than a century old, which makes decay inevitable; the coffins eventually fall but this is part of the fulfillment of the rite.

Tourists are advised not to walk under the coffins, and certainly not to disrespect them by touching, but they they hold a unique beauty and can be observed using binoculars from a safe distance.

Ancient superstition

It may be less intensive, but it is customary for Filipinos to adhere to superstitions, or pamahiin sa patay, most of which are rooted in long-held beliefs.

These must be observed during the wake in order to avoid further deaths and bad luck in the family – and as Filipino wakes can last anything from a few days to a few weeks, this is no easy feat.

The Cebuano people have a long list of superstitions around death. They do not sweep the floor, lest the soul of the deceased be banished from the household.

Mirrors are covered, as it is feared the dead will attempt to show themselves in the reflection.

Mourners should avoid crying onto the glass screen of the casket, in case it impedes the spirit from journeying into the afterlife.

And should you sneeze during the wake, make sure someone pinches you – sneezing invites death but a pinch is meant to ward it off.

In the event of an unjust killing, a chick is placed on top of the coffin to bring justice.

While some of these traditions may seem unusual compared with the practices we have developed in the west, family is central to life and death in the Philippines.

The elderly remain at home until the end of life, which means most die surrounded by those they love – something the UK would do well to replicate.

Funerals are a chance for families to reunite, to reconnect and reinforce familial bonds, and often wakes are extended to accommodate overseas relatives.

Togetherness, family, grief and the comfort of ritual: mountains and oceans may separate us, but maybe we aren’t so different after all.

Complete Article HERE!

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11/3/17

How to Give Back to the Earth in Death

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Conservation burials are one step beyond green burials, and may set aside a couple of square miles for wildlife a year.

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When Matthew Holden’s best friend died last year at the age of 31, it prompted him to think hard on what he would want when his own time came. “What would I want to do with my body when I die?” he asks. “How can I do the best for the world?” After some research, Holden, a mathematician who studies conservation at the University of Queensland in Australia, came across conservation burials.

You may have heard of green burials—funerals in which people eschew formaldehyde-based embalming and metal caskets in favor of more environmentally friendly practices that let the body more easily decompose. Such burials appeal to those who cared about the environment in life, and liked the idea of returning to the Earth in death. “Conservation burial is the next step,” Holden says. In addition to making the burial process itself eco-friendly, conservation burials include interment in a cemetery that’s designed to preserve a parcel of land. People may still visit the cemetery, but it’s maintained as a sort of wilderness area, with small or no headstones, instead of the traditional manicured park. “The goal is to protect native habitat, or restore native habitat for threatened or protected species,” Holden says. In an essay released today in the journal Conservation Letters, he shows just how much space and money would go toward threatened plants and animals if every American chose to have a conservation burial.

The mathematician has found that, given the average burial plot size, conservation burials would set aside two square miles a year for wildlife, if every American chose to have one. (The actual number may be larger because conservation cemeteries tend to leave more space between plots.) Funeral revenues run to an estimated $19 billion annually in the United States. Not all of that money is used to purchase and maintain cemetery space, of course, but the idea of putting even a fraction of that toward land that may help endangered animals and plants is appealing. “Just having that amount of money going to conservation is a lot,” Holden says.

There are few conservation cemeteries in the U.S. The website of the Green Burial Council, which independently certifies various green funeral practices, lists only six. And it’s not known, actually, how much conservation cemeteries aid species. Studies suggest that traditional cemeteries can act as mini green sanctuaries—the historic Weissensee Jewish Cemetery in Berlin, for example, has been found to house 48 species of threatened bats, birds, plants, mosses, and bugs. Could greener practices help burial grounds protect even more species? Holden wants to see biologists undertake studies comparing conservation cemeteries with traditional ones.

Matthew Holden

It’s hard to face death, and different people find different practices comforting. For Holden, it’s clear the idea of giving back helps. In addition to providing homes for endangered animals, he hopes conservation cemeteries could offer a park-like space for visitors, and not just the friends and family of the deceased, either. Imagine a walk in the woods that just happens to be a cemetery. So he’s been trying to get the word out, especially after he quizzed his colleagues in the conservation department at the University of Queensland and found none of them had heard of conservation burials.

“After my friend’s passing I was depressed, and part of the healing process for me was to try and generate some good from such an tragic event in my life,” he says. “It is very much about turning a negative into a positive for me.”

Complete Article HERE!

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11/2/17

Top Websites Raising Death Awareness

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By TalkDeath Team

It’s hard to talk about death without going into the history of it. We’ve talked endlessly on this blog about the ways in which death has changed and evolved over history. We once knew death intimately: we washed the bodies, buried them ourselves and mourned openly and loudly. However today we are, as some scholars would say, largely a death denying culture. The tides are changing and while the chances of us handling the bodies of our loved ones are slim, our awareness of death and dying has been on the rise. Fuelled by popular books, movies, TV shows and personalities, death and death positivity are on the minds of many people. To help foster this much needed change, we present to you the top 8 websites promoting death awareness!

Top Websites Raising Death Awareness

8. Modern Loss

Modern Loss is a place to share the unspeakably taboo, unbelievably hilarious, and unexpectedly beautiful terrain of navigating your life after a death. Beginners welcome. This should say everything you need to know about this wonderful and informative website started by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner. Filled stories of grief, mourning and death acceptance, Modern Loss is a repository of stories, essays, resources and information about dealing with loss and picking yourself up again!

7. What’s Your Grief

Founded by mental health professionals with 10+ years of experience in grief and bereavement, WhatsYourGrief.com is an excellent resource for anyone dealing with the loss of a loved one. Grief is a complex emotion but one that is completely natural. Rather than try and rush of process of bereavement, WYG encourages their readers to work through their feelings in positive, long lasting ways. Well written blogs, grief resources, how-to’s and more.

6. Connecting Directors

Interested in a first hand account of life in the funeral business? Connecting Directors is a great place to start. It is a collection of news, blogs, articles and marketing information tailored to the funeral profession. While some of it may not be relevant to your interests, there is a lot of great information there(plus we are featured there quite often **cough cough**). Started by Ryan Thogmartin, this website reaches thousands of death professionals and gathers articles from a number of sources.

5. Death Cafe

We couldn’t be bigger fans of Death Cafe! While the internet portion of Death Cafe is only secondary to the actual events, it is a great place to connect with a death positive community. Death Cafe’s are informal meetings that happen all over the world where people get together and talk about life, death and everything in between. Chances are there is a local Death Cafe chapter in your city(and if not, you should probably start one). We have been to two events held by our local Death Cafe and they were incredible! Expect tears, laughter and the unexpected.

4. Death & the Maiden

A newcomer relative the rest on our list, Death Maidens is important for several reasons. First, it is connected to growing death positive/death conscious movement. Second, it highlights the important, historical and growing role that women have played vis-a-vis death and dying. We often forget that women before the 20th century played vital functions in death. They washed and dressed bodies, they were the public face of mourning and they knew death in a way that few of us do today. We are really looking forward to some great and informative content!

3. Confessions of a Funeral Director

It would be no exaggeration to say that Caleb Wilde is almost a household name. People who are in no way connected to the funeral profession know his website and share his content. A 6th generation funeral director and prolific blogger, Caleb started Confessions of a Funeral Director as a window into the death profession. His blog runs the gamut from humour, memes, short stories, advice and of course, secrets from the world of funeral directors. A must read for anyone interested in death awareness!

2.  The Order of the Good Death

Founded and run by Caitlin Doughty, The Order has grown to become much more than a simple blog/website raising death awareness. The order now hosts dozens of members from academics, morticians, funeral directors and artists and is filled with both written content and video content. Caitlin’s well known YoutTube channel, Ask a Mortician, is an informative and hilarious video series. The Order now also runs the largest death positive meet-up in the world, Death Salon. Be careful though as you could get lost for hours on The Order’s website!

1. Death Reference Desk

The Death Reference Desk is run by professor John Troyer, Deputy Director of and a Death and Dying Practices Associate at the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath and Librarians Meg Holle & Kim Anderson. Pulling from their knowledge and experience, the goal of the DRD is to inform the casually interested and morbidly curious alike about All Things Death: the bizarre, the batty and the beautiful, from interesting blogs and recommended books to commentary and analysis of death in the news. This website is an incredible resource for anyone interested in almost anything related to death and dying and best of all, you can ask John, Meg & Kim any question and they will answer them on their website! 

Complete Article HERE!

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11/1/17

What Is Day Of The Dead, And What Can It Teach You About The Grief Process?

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The Mexican holiday has nothing to do with Halloween, but lots to do with normalizing death.

This summer, it seemed like death was everywhere. In the course of a few short weeks I had a miscarriage and watched my dog be struck and killed as we walked down our dead-end road. Two weeks later, my aunt unexpectedly passed away in her sleep.This trio of tragedies would have left anyone reeling, but I realized that I was hurting deeply in part because I didn’t have an adequate vocabulary to talk about death. This was especially evident when I tried to answer questions posed by my 3-year-old daughter, who kept inquiring about our dog and her great aunt for months. I wanted her to understand that death was normal and even expected, but I was having a hard time remembering that myself. (Here are 5 reasons you should talk about death, even if you don’t want to.)

And then, by chance, I stumbled upon information about Dia de Los Muertos—Day of the Dead—and I was captivated. Day of the Dead is most commonly celebrated in Mexico, although other South American countries celebrate as well. It’s believed that spirits arrive on October 31 and leave on November 2. November 1, however, is the main day of celebration, and the day most commonly referred to as Day of the Dead.

Most Americans, if they have even heard of the holiday, associate it with Halloween and colorfully painted skulls. But despite the coincidental timing, it’s really a fun-filled but complex acknowledgement of death as part of life, and it combines the Catholic All Saint’s Day with indigenous traditions and beliefs.

People who celebrate it believe that, on and around November 1, spirits can easily pass between our world and the afterlife. Families might set extra places at the table, exchange stories, and prepare gifts for their deceased loved ones. But mostly the day is about fun, since many people believe spirits would be insulted if they came back to find everyone in mourning.

This seemed vastly different from how many Americans view life, death, and grieving, so I wanted to learn more. It turns out there’s a whole lot that we could all learn from Dia de Los Muertos about the grief process.

Death is a part of life.
I’ve always thought of life and death as opposites. However, Day of the Dead celebrates death as a part of life, rather than the end of it. And recognizing that life and death go hand-in-hand can ease the grieving process, says Kriss Kevorkian, PhD, an expert on grief.

“Day of the Dead connects life and death in a way that, generally speaking, Americans don’t often do,” says Kevorkian. People who celebrate it realize that their loved ones are still present in their lives, even if they aren’t physically there. “You’re not taught to believe that once your loved one dies that’s it.” By normalizing death, the grieving process also becomes normalized and less of something to fear.

A relationship doesn’t end just because someone has died.
“The first chapter of grieving is really recognizing that someone is gone from this world, and your relationship with them is changing” rather than ending, says Tracee Dunblazier, a spiritual empath and grief counselor based in Los Angeles. Whether you believe like Dunblazier does that it’s possible to communicate with the dead, or you merely believe in keeping them alive through memories, recognizing that some sort of relationship can be maintained can be very healing.

“When you think of death as final, you’re looking from a specific sliver of a perspective that does not show the whole story,” Dunblazier says.

Grief doesn’t follow a strict timeline.
When someone you love dies, everyone expects you to struggle—but only for a little while. The problem, of course, is that people don’t heal on schedule, and sometimes it takes months or even years to “move on,” especially after someone passes unexpectedly. This idea is known as complicated grief, and Western cultures usually view it as something to treat (perhaps with therapy and/or antidepressants).

Cultures that celebrate Day of the Dead, however, don’t try to force a sense of closure. Having a holiday that acknowledges the presence of the dead can make complicated grief easier to address, particularly on November 1, when the spirits are thought to be nearby. Believing that your loved ones can hear and understand you on this holiday means that you have the chance to say anything that was left unsaid before they died, says Merrie Haskins, a counselor and psychotherapist based in Minnesota.

Funerals (or at least memorials) can be fun.

In America, death is a very somber event. We wear black to funerals and talk in hushed tones. However, anyone who has ever listened to a lovingly-delivered eulogy knows that smiles and laughter are an important part of the grieving process. Although South American cultures have sad funerals as well, they incorporate happiness and fun into Day of the Dead to honor their loved ones in a more spirited way. That’s something that’s not common in American culture. (See how these 3 alternative therapies can help heal your grief, according to Prevention Premium.)

“We don’t usually have a celebration with levity, happiness, song, and dance,” says Shoshana Ungerleider, MD, chair of the End Well Symposium, an organization that focuses on quality end-of-life care. “People who celebrate the Day of the Dead take this lightness very seriously, due to the belief that spirits who come to visit would be insulted if they found everyone in mourning.”

Haskins suggests adopting that focus on fun as a way to celebrate your loved ones. For example, each year she attends an Academy Award viewing party given in honor of a particular deceased family member who used to love watching the awards show. “That makes it fun for us to remember her and for new people to get to hear about how wonderful she was,” she says.

Stop fearing death, and your own death will be better.
Everyone dies, but many people are too terrified to think about it—to their detriment. “In America, we often shy away from talking about death, loss, and grief. As a physician, I see many gravely sick people in the hospital who have never considered what they want at the end of life,” Ungerleider says. As a result, their final days can be stressful for them as well as their families, because everyone is struggling to make decisions that align with their beliefs while simultaneously dealing with the grief of imminent loss.

A celebration like Day of the Dead can make people think about their own death and plan for what they want at the end of their lives. “By accepting and discussing openly that death is a part of life, you make sure you receive the care you want.”

Complete Article HERE!

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10/30/17

A Checklist Before Dying

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In early 2015, my mom was in a car wreck. She sustained extensive injuries and died two weeks later. I was 35 at the time, surrounded by chaos, and had no idea what I was doing.

You hate to look on the bright side of life-altering tragedy, but I’m still so grateful to my mom for having her affairs in order. Because her accident was so sudden, it took a few days to locate her end-of-life documents. Once we did, it felt like there was a shift in my brain chemistry. We now had guidelines to help us respond to this terrible, traumatic event.

A lot of people believe it’s too difficult or macabre to think about, much less plan for, your own death. But confusion, exhaustion, and terror are the norm in the wake of enormous loss. Planning ahead helps reduce your family’s stress when they’re already in their own personal hell.

If you have a contentious relationship with your family of origin, it’s extra important for you to draw up wills and other relevant legal documents. If something terrible were to happen to you, somebody you don’t like or respect but happen to share blood with may have more say than the people who are actually important to you. Paperwork can help prevent that.

Here is an overview of how to prepare for the (inevitable) worst:

Your Last Will and Testament

Most of us learn about wills from television, though I’m not sure there’s actually ever been a dramatic scene immediately after a funeral where a lawyer sits down with a bunch of people and parcels out the deceased’s belongings.

A will serves two functions:

  1. To appoint an executor of the estate
  2. To express the deceased’s wishes about distribution of assets

It doesn’t matter how much or how little a person had in this world. When they die, their assets and debts become the property of “the Estate of [Deceased Person].” An executor of an estate is the person put in charge of making sure the estate is handled properly—which does sometimes come down to parceling out the deceased’s belongings.

You should know that, even if you say “please leave all my money to these people or this organization,” if you die with a bunch of debt, it’s likely the debt will have priority over your wishes.

A durable power of attorney

This document outlines how incapacitated you have to be to let some (specific) person handle your money. Even if you don’t want anyone else to touch your money, consider the logistics; setting up a power of attorney lets someone else sign checks to pay your light bill or rent, for example, without technically committing fraud. (We always forget about the little stuff.)

You have to specifically appoint a person for this role. Once you die this document ceases to be of any value and the executor of your estate takes over.

Your medical directives

This document lays out the manner in which you wish to live vs. do not wish to live. These documents vary massively by state. In general, states with Right to Die laws will have more much more detailed requirements. If you draft a medical directive in one state and then wind up becoming grievously ill or injured in another state, they should still honor the spirit (if not the letter) of this document.

I did mine in Oregon. It’s a three-page list of yes/no scenarios. You have to consider your own mortality, but other than that, it’s really not that daunting. All you have to do is express what you’d like to happen to you, should the worst happen.

You have to specifically appoint a person to execute your medical directives as well. A doctor will not look at this document and enforce it based on their own judgments about your condition. So make sure the person you appoint to do this is someone who understands your wishes and respects your values, because this document will empower them to either enforce or override your choices.

An estate attorney

A will, a durable power of attorney, and a medical directive should all be drawn up with a lawyer. The people that specialize in this area of the law are called estate attorneys. The estate attorney should be able to tell you upfront how much it will cost to draw these documents up and a lot of times you can work out a payment plan with them.

This attorney will keep a copy of each of these documents in their files. You should also keep copies in a safe place that other people know about and can access should you be in a medical crisis and unable to communicate. It may also be wise to give copies to the people who have appointed roles in your end-of-life documents.

Life insurance

You should have life insurance if you have any outstanding debts or dependents. My understanding is that your life insurance should equal your debt + five years of your salary + your child’s/children’s estimated college tuition, but do your own research on what’s best for you—and do some research on which of your debts are forgiven in death and which are not.

If you have no major debt and no dependents, you could skip the life insurance part, but keep in mind that life insurance beneficiaries can also be parents or other relatives, all of whom could probably use the money—especially if they are anticipating support in their retirement years and/or paying for the cost of your funeral.

Love letters

Any final lovely words you want to write to the wonderful people in your life? Better yet, any petty stuff you want to make sure you get the legit last word on? Write it in a letter, seal it in an envelope and keep with the other documents.

Lists of accounts, important contacts, assets and debts

Accounts: A list of all your credit cards, checking and savings accounts, including where they’re held and branch information if necessary.

Important contact info: The attorney who helped draft your legal documents, your doctor, your health insurance, your pet’s veterinarian, etc. If someone had to suddenly take over your whole life, what do they need to know?

Assets: Retirement accounts, a 401(k) program at your work, any property you might own (with the mortgage holder listed), savings bonds, certificates of deposit, etc. You can leave out the account numbers if you have privacy concerns; what you’re really doing is making a road map for whoever will be handling your affairs.

Debts and bills: Student loans, credit cards, mortgages, auto loans, etc. Don’t forget your rent, utilities, subscriptions, child support, memberships, and donations that auto-renew. List every single thing that bills out of your account monthly, quarterly, annually.

Update this information every time you change your clocks and put the revision date at the top. (Also, change your smoke alarm batteries while you’re at it.)

Funeral preparations and preferences

You can get as specific as you want with this, but at the bare minimum let people know if you want a burial or cremation and where you want your remains to go. (Especially if you come from a large family or if there are any religious or cultural differences to consider.)

Obituary draft

Obituaries have to be filed for a few reasons. Many states have public disclosure laws for debt collection that require an obituary. Also, people might want to come to your funeral (or at least know you died) who aren’t in your immediate social and family circles. Draft a super basic obituary that includes where you were born along with the names of your parents, siblings, children, etc. A few broad strokes about your life, where you went to school, worked, what you enjoyed doing, etc.

It’s going to be painful for your loved ones to write about you in the past tense, so giving them a rough draft can be very helpful—especially because the obituary usually has to be written immediately  after a person’s death.

Make sure people know where this stuff is!

Keep it somewhere secure. But let the right people know how to access it. A fireproof safe in your house? Make sure someone knows where the keys are. A safe deposit box? Make sure someone else has access to it. In a folder on your laptop labeled “Death Prep?” You’d better give someone else the password and the file path. Under the floorboards? Whatever, just make sure people can find it and have access to it if you are suddenly incapacitated.

Final note

The less mess you leave for someone to clean up, the less you’ll complicate the grief for people who love you. All the secrets you have stashed around your life? Someone has to clean that up. Know that the dead have zero privacy; all of your porn, medical history and drug habits will be 100 percent somebody else’s business now. Appoint an executor who has some chill, and good luck in the next plane of existence.

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, nor a financial advisor. I’m terrible at math and I hate dealing with people. This is not professional advice and you should definitely pay an actual grown-up $200/hour to explain how the basic tenets of our society functions because your pain, fear and confusion is the grease that keeps the ruthless machine of capitalism churning. Above all, do not sue me if you mess up your own life!

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