The recent death of my beloved friend still has me reeling. Many people, myself included, aren’t fond of even thinking about death, let alone planning for it.
We all know our lives are our responsibility. In our early years, making decisions was fairly easy. We went to school, got a job or a career, got married, raised children and provided for their future. Later, we continued to make the necessary decisions. We retired (or not), we took care of ourselves and we took care of others.
But preparing for our own deaths is our responsibility as well, whether we have many to mourn our passing or no one. If we are unwilling to accept our responsibility, someone else will bear the burden. I shudder to think of what would have happened to my friend without anyone to care. She was an “orphaned senior.”
The only time she and I talked about dying was when she told me she was not worried because she knew God would take care of her. She had a will and she had a plot but no funeral package.
So I took on the responsibility of clearing out her apartment as quickly as possible and responsibility for her final arrangements and service.
To say that I was shocked at the amount of details and the amount of money it cost is not hyperbole. Among the decisions I had to make without guidance and on the fly were: whether to place her in a vault or underground, which casket was most appropriate and which marker would be most appropriate. Mortuary services included a basic professional service fee, cosmetology, flowers, dressing and casketing of my friend, funeral vehicle/hearse, refrigeration and transfer of her remains to the funeral home.
In addition, I ordered 12 certified copies of the death certificate as well as a permit — all were necessary purchases. The death certificate copies are used to close accounts, provide to creditors and insurance companies, as well as to make official notification. Her cable box had to be returned. It may not seem like a big deal, but under the circumstances, it became a big deal.
Had my friend and I talked about it beforehand — and prepared — so much agony and chaos could have been avoided.
Since her passing, I’ve had to ask myself some hard questions: Am I prepared to die? Have I done everything I can to make it as easy on those I leave behind so they don’t have to go through what I’ve just been through?
There are many online resources that will inform and guide us. Here are just a few: “Proper Death Planning” at nytimes.com; “Funeral Planning Checklist,” caregiverslibrary.com; “Six Great Tech Tools for Planning Your Own Death,” wisebread.com; and “Preparing for Your Own Death,” oktodie.com. Then there is “Taking Care After 50: A Self-Care Guide For Seniors” by Dr. Harvey Jay Cohen.
Whether we’re 35 or 95, it’s never too early to plan for our inevitable end. Let’s not leave our responsibility to our bereaved.
Until next time … keep thinking the good thoughts.
— For more than 30 years, Rona Barrett was a pioneering entertainment reporter, commentator and producer. Since 2000, she has focused her attention and career on the growing crisis of housing and support for our aging population. She is founder and CEO of the Rona Barrett Foundation, the catalyst behind Santa Ynez Valley’s first affordable senior housing, the Golden Inn & Village. Contact her at email@example.com.