“No matter who you are, how young or old, what measure of success you’ve attained, or where you live, mortality remains the great equalizer. With each tick of the clock, a moment of your life is behind you. Even as you read this paragraph, seconds past that you can never regain. Your days are numbered, and each one that passes is gone forever”.
In this season of life (the Autumn years) I find myself drawn to answering the questions, “If I were to die tomorrow, next week or whenever, what would I regret? What legacy do I hope to leave behind? How can I make my suddenly being gone an easier transition for those I love? *
I’ve been honored to be at the side of many as they’ve breathed their last breath. I’ve been privileged to walk side-by-side with those who lost loved ones. I’ve accompanied widows and widowers to the funeral home. I’ve watched their heart battle the desire to provide their loved one a casket of great honor, lined comfortably in their favorite color and the affordability of finances. I’ve helped sort through a myriad of papers; what to keep, what to toss. “I’m so confused as my spouse did all the finances?” a phrase heard all too often as we sat together going over checkbooks and bookkeeping systems. Figuring out insurance papers, gathering all the necessary forms, notifying needed businesses and agencies; learning which paperwork is required when and where simply overwhelms.
I’ve seen the agony first-hand of adult children coming to terms with the loss of a beloved parent and then having to deal with a house full of memories. Watching them struggle with what to keep and what to let go when their heart desires to keep it all.
The sheer weight of all the decisions which need to be made in the midst of deep grief somehow seems cruel. Therefore anything we can do to lighten the load would be a treasured gift of love.
Observing the difficult and heart wrenching process I made the decision to start the process of downsizing our stuff. My loved ones will have enough to deal with, without sorting through unnecessary “fluff”; unnecessary things taking up space. After all it’s simply things, nothing more and nothing less. I can’t take them with me. Well, technically I can. I can choose to have them buried with me, but there they will simply lie in the ground as they will be of no use to me in the afterlife.
What can I do to make it easier for those left behind? One of the greatest gifts, I believe, I can give to my loved ones is the Because I Love You Binder. This is a binder I created mostly in my head several years ago. It’s becoming a reality this year. It’s simply a notebook with final instructions, of where to find, what to do, who to call, how to distribute, and what not to worry about.
I have a dear friend who inspired me with her response to the question, “What to do with the things left behind”. At a family gathering she gave all of her children a roll of duct tape and a marking pen. She gave instructions for each person to go throughout the house. When they came to an item they treasured and would love to possess in the future, they were to write their name on a piece of duct tape and place it on the back, or the bottom of the item. Any item found with out the new owners claim will be donated after her death. I wish I remembered how they solved any disputes over an item. Perhaps when she reads my blog she’ll call and tell me. 🙂 I’ve seen too many families argue, get hurt and have relationships broken over the desire to possess something a loved one left behind. Sometimes it revolves around sentiment and sometimes it revolves around the value of the piece. Things are not more important than relationships. Yet, I know emotions run high when a loved one dies. Wounds and hurts of the past sometimes surface from nowhere; our behaviors respond accordingly. My friend’s idea potentially softens that kind of turmoil. Having her children declare their love for an item alleviated her of the stress of deciding who gets what. It alleviated the potential of favorites within the family as well; an inspiring idea, indeed.
Ever planned your own funeral? At funerals or memorials many choose to share a short video with pictures and music. Having this put together ahead of time, believe me, is a gift. What a gift to sit with family and select the pictures you wish to share and the music you would love to have played. There’s a blessing in hearing the memories first-hand as you share fond times together. Remember when….. I cried for hours, or I laughed so hard I peed my pants, or _____ lots of blanks to fill in. Not something morbid to avoid but precious memories to be shared while loved ones’ are still with us.
My spouse having Parkinson’s disease and a memory which doesn’t function as it once did, motivates me to do everything within my earthly power to make life manageable should I be called to heaven 1st. No, it won’t be easy. It’s never easy for those left behind when a beloved one dies. I may not hit a home run with my plan of action. Yet, I’m going to do all I can to make it around those bases, because he’s worth it. I guess you could say, “This is my last act of love, my last gift, prepared well in advance.” I pray and hope it’s well in advance!
One things for certain, we all will die and no one knows when. I know death is a grim, morbid subject for many. However hiding our head in the sand won’t change the outcome, other than cause our demise sooner. Not talking about it with others won’t grant us more time. Behaving like Scarlett O’Hara, placing our hands on our forehead and saying, “I’ll think about that tomorrow”, may be too late; tomorrow is never guaranteed. Let’s give the gift of love to our families by talking about our desires, writing down our wishes, and putting things in place which will make their lives easier after we take our last breath.
If you were making a “Because I Love You Book” what items would you include? Please share them in the comments section. If you have other suggestions on how to prepare others for your loss in their lives, I would love to hear them too.
More to come – Until next time,
“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me when as yet there was none of them” Psalm 139:16.
*Opening quote from the book One Month to Live by authors Kerry and Chris shook