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You only die once. Tips for commencing the journey of your life with clarity, style and consideration of others.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
When I was growing up in Illinois in the 'fifties, there was a well-known phrase, that the only two certainties in life were death and taxes. Well, we hear plenty about taxes... but precious little about death, much less making a "good death." With this article I aim to rectify the imbalance a bit and get you thinking about how to prepare for death, the last great journey of your life.
Some people will find this subject distasteful, even gruesome and appalling. But that's a decidedly provincial and short-sighted view. The plain fact is, we must all die... so the question is not whether your demise is going to happen or not; rather, it's whether you have prepared yourself and others for the event... and whether you have arranged matters with efficiency, convenience, and style, always remembering that you get one chance and one chance only to arrange matters properly; that it must be done right.
1) Your last will and testament
Millions of people who should have a will, don't. They offer any number of "reasons" for putting off until tomorrow that which they should be doing today... but the plain fact is, planning to give up all that is near, dear, and familiar unnerves them. I know.
Like so many, I procrastinated about drawing up a will, only to discover when at last I could procrastinate no longer that the process was fascinating, enthralling and liberating. It was good to know that questions of property and dispersal were handled and that, at the end, I could concentrate on other things rather than the last will and testament I had put off too long.
2) Allow ample time for necessary will preparation and creation
Naively, I thought that preparing a will would be a matter of a few weeks, a month or two at most. In fact (due partly it is true to a dilatory lawyer) it took nearly 15 months to gather all the necessary information, schedule and have conferences, consider the disposition of every cent of money and item of furniture; in short, it was a much more time consuming (and expensive) event than I ever imagined. Prepare accordingly.
3) Decide where and how you wish to be buried.
The question you must answer is whether you wish to be cremated or whether you wish your mortal remains to be buried. I found this a particularly difficult question. It happened that I had seen a film on the actual process of cremation, and didn't at all like what I saw. On the other hand, I didn't relish being planted in the cold, unyielding ground of New England for eternity either.
My best friend, a scientist able to look the matter in the eye with sterner clarity and resolution than I was, told me in no uncertain terms that I was over analyzing the situation, that cremation was the only intelligent and ecologically friendly course of action. I selected cremation... but without the bell-ringing conviction and certainty of my friend.
4) Habeas corpus. Now what can you do with it?
You must make, in a moment of clarity, the decision not just what must be done with your remains in terms of burial or cremation... but whether these remains can be used for the benefit of others. Do you want portions of your body, still usable, to go to others... or do you wish to stay intact, inviolable?
Personally, I had no trouble with this issue; it made eminent good sense to allow others to benefit from whatever was sufficiently useful.. and which I would be unable to use. Noblesse oblige. And so the proper authorities have my express desire and my permission to use me however they see fit.
5) No heroic measures
Do you want to exhaust all efforts to stay alive, even if "living" means that you can do nothing more than breathe and exist? To me, such a "life" can be purchased at far too great a cost, with resources best used for others. To be "alive" but unable to "live" seems to me a very poor use of resources, and a situation that causes maximum expense and maximum trouble for others, rather than the serenity and peace we seek.
6) Write the necessary letters
Before you die there are things to do, important things which cannot be put off. Amongst these tasks is the writing of certain letters, letters to spouse, to children, to dear and valued friends, and, yes, letters to those you may have offended... or who need some clear, final statement from you about some misunderstood deed or hurtful action.
These letters must be hand written... and must render sentiments of importance and total honesty. You owe it to yourself and recipient to write from the heart, especially if what you write is painful, difficult, and unexpected. Work hard on these letters, for what you write will be read, reread, and considered often by the recipients. Plan on it.
7) Arrange a final chat whenever possible
Hearing that his lifelong love Madame de Laval was dying, the Prince de Talleyrand, the celebrated French 19th century statesman, hurried to her side. There, they remembered their youth and its pleasures, tears freely flowing. But this was not how either of them wished the matter to end.
Madame de Laval asked for a few moments to compose herself... the Prince de Talleyrand removed himself... and, too, pulled himself together.
Madame de Laval called him in, offered the full hospitality of her house, and they settled into a long, intimate, gracious chat, lively and fulfilling of the kind they had enjoyed for so many years.
The Prince then said his adieux and departed, only to learn that his chere amie had died a few hours later, satisfied and comforted... the way eternal partings from your dearly beloved should be. As the end approaches, spend it thus... for parting, as Shakespeare knew, is such sweet sorrow.
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