Of a Certain Age
Preparation is critical
Last updated 9/5/2023 at 10:14am
The anticipation of a new school year colored my August for years. First, as an eager student, the beginning of school meant a few new clothes and a new pair of shoes, after my shorts, T-shirts, and bare feet of summer. In high school, it meant the return to seeing friends every day and the excitement of new experiences and more freedom.
As a mother of two boys (and four stepchildren for a decade), August meant shopping the back-to-school sales for clothes, shoes, and school supplies. Fall sports practices meant lots of picking up and dropping off with games on Saturday.
Now, as I watch the autumn of my life slide into winter, my focus isn’t on acquisition and new beginnings. Rather, I am preparing for a different journey, one that leads to the great beyond. If I am going to make that exit as easy as possible for my sons (and me), I need to prepare every bit as carefully as I did for those new school years.
I have known for a long time what that preparation entails. I had the rich five-year experience of managing the Transitions program at Hospice of Redmond. I refer to that time as receiving my “master’s in aging.” It was like a lab in what it means to get old and the opportunity to experience both the helpful and not so helpful ways to prepare for death.
So, you ask, am I all ready to exit stage left? Are my affairs all in order? Can I relax, knowing that if I die tomorrow I have done everything to prepare for that certain end?
Not by a long shot! Let my cautionary tale serve as a reminder and encouragement to do as I say, not as I do.
This fall I am entering my own special class called Preparing for the End: Do It Now. I just recently took my first step. I enrolled in the Neptune Society, which will see to my cremation and attendant matters. It’s a pretty nifty program that takes over all arrangements as soon as they are notified of my death, even if I happen to be somewhere else in the world.
I began working with a local attorney several years ago on my necessary legal documents but got waylaid by needing to have a conversation with someone who is in my will before proceeding. My unfinished document is now in the inactive file in the attorney’s office. I will resurrect it this fall before I am inactive.
I have been saying for the last half decade (even in this column) that I need to shed many of my belongings, which were important in my previous life but no longer serve a purpose. I know I will feel lighter and more at ease when that is accomplished. I have the memories — I don’t need the things.
Of equal importance is making decisions and arrangements for my care as I draw closer to the final graduation. I am fortunate that my Transitions lab prepared me well for this exercise. I have been made keenly aware of that while recently trying to help someone older navigate the maze of medical issues and decisions, housing options, transportation, and everyday living with diminished capacity, when no preplanning has been done.
There are any number of resources available to help with those decisions and the time to avail myself of these services is now, while my brain is still working well and I can utilize my computer and the internet.
Preparing people for their end is a good business. There is a plethora of books, organizers, online services, and organizations all designed to help me let my loved ones know everything they could ever want or need to know.
A resource I found while working for hospice is the “It’s My Life KIT,” which is available online (itsmylifekit.com). KIT stands for Keep In Touch and is for life, through the end of life. Simple checklists make each themed section about important life decisions easy to complete and use in discussions with loved ones.
The Neptune Society provides a Planning Guide, which will help familiarize me with the services they provide, government assistance for veterans and seniors, issues surrounding estate planning, family history, and financial information.
The AARP publishes a 250-page book, “Checklist for My Family,” a detailed guide to personal history, financial plans, final wishes, and resources. It is available at AARP.org/bookstore.
Available on Amazon is a three-ring binder titled “Life Organizer: The Essential Record Keeper & Estate Planner.” In the same location are nine other possibilities from which to choose. The resources I mention are only the tip of the iceberg. Just google “end of life planning.”
Take a hint from me. Whatever method you use, just do it — and do it now. To assemble all the information requires the capacity to gather and organize it. If you need help, ask a trusted friend or family member for assistance. You might find yourself reliving memories and sharing stories. When everything is assembled be sure to tell several trusted others that the information exists and where it is, or better yet, give it to the person you trust to carry out your wishes.
I’m going to ask all of you a favor. Next time you see me at Ray’s, or BiMart, or Ace, or in a restaurant, ask me how I’m doing in my class, “Preparing for the End.”