— Preparing for my death has provided me with way more entertainment than is seemly
Although confronting, the act of getting my affairs in order has provided much space for reflection – and gratitude
It’s lockdown number whatever, and this time I’m going to make it count. No sourdough therapy, no binge watching Schitts Creek, no ordering recklessly expensive artisan cakelets. This time I’m preparing for death.
A few years ago I helped my mother write her advance care plan. Now it’s my turn. I download it and work my way through the personal details to the end-of-life section. Who do I want to make medical decisions on my behalf? When do I want the plug pulled? I surprise myself with the strength of my written response.
It corresponds to the fierceness with which I guard my mother’s humanity: from well-meaning nurses who try to infantilise her, from doctors who talk to me about her as if she’s not in the room. I ask them politely to address themselves to her. Witnessing this, powerlessness and the loss of a stake in discussions about my own welfare have become the things I fear the most. I’ve seen firsthand how easily control of our destiny can slip from our grasp.
Her diary, once a daily record of her reflections, has become a hit-and-miss affair as her memory fades. A well-meaning relative has taken to recording my mother’s activities as a means of jogging her memory. She’s having none of it. Her latest entry reads: “Please leave me to write in this diary. It is beginning to look as if it has no idea who I am.” Despite her loss of autonomy, she has retained her sense of humour.
The fear of powerlessness is not the only prompt for my end-of-life preparations. I’m driven in part by the wish to make my passing easier for my children, whom I confidently expect to be inconsolable at the loss of their mother. To this end, I begin the task of gathering and storing my will, enduring powers of attorney, property deeds, birth, marriage and divorce certificates and, most importantly, the passwords to all my accounts.
Dying is a serious business. If a heart attack doesn’t kill you, the paperwork will.
In the search for the whereabouts of my will, I come upon some correspondence that has me reassessing my offspring’s expected levels of postmortem devastation. Two years ago I sent them a short email advising them where to find my will, and the spreadsheet that lists their individual advances on what we laughingly call their “inheritance”.
“Child X has as yet no entries in her column,” I write. “That’s what a life of abstemiousness and no driving licence can do.” To which Child Y, the party-boy comedian, responds: “How do I get my hands on some cash now? The email dragged on a bit so I couldn’t finish it.”
Undeterred, I dust off my “official documents” file from the cabinet under the stairs and sort the useful from the outdated, the originals from the copies. I find a useful online resource to list my bank details, assets, liabilities and funeral instructions.
Calculating your net worth can be confronting when the entry you put next to the dollar sign in the car column is “Not much”. Worse, the column is actually titled “cars”. I have very few entries in the “assets” side – nothing under “boat” and no idea what “other toys” might mean – but even fewer under “liabilities”. Freedom from debt may well be the only legacy I leave my children. Having gone through a financial settlement a decade ago, I’m determined to live within my means. So far I’ve managed to do it.
I’m taken with the Japanese concept of yutori: what Robert Dessaix describes as “just enough – time, friends, love, books – and a little bit more”. It’s giving yourself enough time after you have arrived at a destination to look around you. For me, it’s about having a comfortable life without the need for those notional “other toys” and the financial burden that comes with them.
My funeral wishes are essentially limited to the desire to be cremated and have my ashes scattered in my family’s happy place – a small coastal town. The musical component of my funeral is much more significant than the logistics.
Five years ago, I compiled a musical wish list before an extended overseas trip and surprised each child with their own vinyl copy, complete with album notes. Absolute Lizzie – The Funeral Selection was a highlight of my parenting career. It was a snapshot of the life I shared with my children, full of meaning and memories for all of us. The playlist is a chaotic combination of soundtracks and sentiment; a shameless play for laughs as well as a heartfelt homage to those long-dead musical geniuses who added so much joy to my life.
Lost in a reverie, I’ve managed to pass a long lazy afternoon in lockdown surrounded by dog-eared papers and wrapped in a warm maternal fug. I highly recommend it.
Preparing for my death has provided me with way more entertainment than is seemly. And a few ideas for a follow up album: Absolute Lizzie – The Afterlife.
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