It’s one thing to know how you would want to be treated at the end of your life—who should be notified of your death, whether you wish to be buried or cremated, what kind of funeral or memorial service you’d like.
It’s another to let your family and loved ones in on the details.
Last spring, I wrote a Catching Health blog post about the importance of not waiting until you are at the end of your life to have conversations with your family about dying.
Judging from the comments I received, my post got a lot of people talking—or at least thinking about talking.
Roxanne Jones wrote, “This is so, so important, Diane. I read Dr. (Atul) Gawande’s book (“Being Mortal”) last year and got my husband to read it, too. None of us is getting out of here alive, and we really do need to make our loved ones aware of how we want to exit this life. Not talking about it doesn’t keep us from dying; it only puts a tremendous burden on those closest to us, and will likely frustrate the hell out of us if our wishes aren’t known and we’re incapable of implementing them.”
Jennifer Dimond recommended The Conversation Project (theconversationproject.org) as a great resource for helping start conversations about end of life. It offers a starter kit you can download that helps you get your thoughts together so you can begin your conversation.
And Barbara Bates Sedoric sent me information about The LastingMatters Organizer, which she developed. I checked it out and think it could be extremely helpful in many ways.
In Sedoric’s words, “It is a straightforward guide that walks you through everything from what to do with your belongings to how you want your life celebrated.”
Using practical and easy to understand prompts, you’ll be asked to think about things like:
- How do you envision your end-of-life care?
- Who should be notified when you die?
- What kind of service would you like?
- Where are the keys to your home?
- Where are your passwords listed?
- Who should take care of your pets?
- Where are your bank accounts?
- Which family traditions would you like to pass on?
As a former estates and trusts paralegal, Sedoric often found herself in someone’s attic or basement searching for documents that were needed by probate court to settle his/her estate. Sometimes, she’d come across dribs and drabs of information in desk drawers or shoe boxes, like how one man wanted to be cremated and have his ashes sprinkled in various places. Only he never told his family and they buried him instead.
Or the woman who was cremated and only later did her family discover that she had donated her body for research. “She did all the paperwork but never told anyone,” says Sedoric. “It’s all about communication and clarity.”
You would think that given her work experience, Sedoric would have known just what to do when her mother died unexpectedly 10 years ago. She didn’t.
“I found myself inside the process of having to plan a funeral,” she says. “We’d never had a conversation about what to do with her ashes and personal possessions. We had to write an obituary—all in a fog of grief.”
Sedoric told her father, “When you die, I don’t want to do this again. I want to know everything, what you have, your wishes, your intentions.”
At the same time, a seed of an idea began to form. She interviewed hundreds of people, asking them what they wish they had known when their loved one died. What might have helped save time and money and stress and family arguments.
She began to organize all the information she was gathering—Sedoric is a very organized woman. Her efforts evolved into The LastingMatters Organizer, more than 100 pages waiting to be filled out with everything you want your family to know about your end-of-life wishes.
“It’s very practical,” Sedoric says. “Not morbid and morose. It’s just gathering information. What you think. What you want to happen. It can save families hours and hours and days from trying to unravel pass codes, passwords, who gets what. I look at it as guidance. It’s very straightforward.”
So far, Sedoric has sold thousands of her organizers. Every day she meets people who don’t merely understand the importance of getting it all down, they actually do it.
Whether you use her organizer or not, she has this advice: “Don’t wait for a crisis. Do it while you’re healthy. We all die, we just don’t know when. Our greatest gift can be information when it will matter the most.” You’ll find more about Barbara Bates Sedoric and her organizer (and how to buy it) on her website lastingmatters.com.
Diane Atwood writes the blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood, which received a Gold Lamplighter Award from the New England Society for Healthcare Communications and a Golden Arrow Award from the Maine Public Relations Council. Find it at catchinghealth.com.