Grief changed me. Having lived through the deaths of my entire family in the span of four years, the greatest catalyst for change in my life can be directly attributed to grief. After my mom died unexpectedly, I became overwhelmed with the ‘death duties’ forcing me to provide answers to all of the issues that arise after someone dies.
I became my mom’s personal assistant, without her assistance. I wished she would have written down information regarding bills, her mortgage or passwords for online accounts, but her lack of planning inspired me to follow a new cosmic calling: To prevent others from going through what I went through by helping people plan for their worst-case scenario.
There was no instruction manual to help me, so I ended up writing one. But how to convince people that advance planning needs to be part of LIFE? I ended up creating an unconventional advance planning company called Good To Go! (G2G!) I guide people through their Living Wills and the G2G! Departure File that includes the ‘Cosmic Instruction Manual’ in a party atmosphere with laughs, pot luck dishes to share, cocktails and a rock and roll death-themed soundtrack. I’m trying to convince people to address their advance planning while they are young and healthy, because most think it’s only something to think about when considered ‘elderly’ or terminally ill. In fact, even most terminally ill people don’t address their advance planning! Aretha Franklin was in her 70’s and had pancreatic cancer for seven years, yet she didn’t complete a will.
Minutes after learning your loved one has died, chaos ensues. You will find yourself acting as a detective, party planner, personal organizer, accountant, mover, travel booker and house cleaner on top of mourning your DNA leaving the planet! I ached to pick up the phone and talk to my mom one last time. Partly to ask how to navigate this impenetrable fog of grief, but mostly to get her wifi password. Why do we put more time and effort in building our own burrito than we do planning for our own deaths or an emergency situation?
I can’t tell you how you’re going to get through the deaths of your family and friends, because somehow, through the miracle of human resilience, you just do. But I will tell you three things I know will make your grief less complicated if you do them today.
- Talk about advance planning with your loved ones while everyone is young and healthy.
Do your loved ones know what type of care you would want if you were unable to speak for yourself? Have you chosen a health care proxy? Would you know what they would want? Do your loved ones know your wishes regarding body disposition? Bring up different healthcare scenarios while they are an abstraction. No one regrets doing this.
- Write your wishes down
Communication is great, but you also need to put your wishes in writing in a legal document! Everyone 18 and older needs an advance health care directive or living will and if you have children and assets, get a will but don’t forget to address all the daily logistics.
- Don’t stop talking about advance planning
My Dad attended a Good To Go! party when he was healthy. Our continued death discourse allowed me to know exactly what he wanted when, a year later, he was unexpectedly hospitalized with pneumonia and died six days later. He had the courage to face his mortality and he knew he wasn’t leaving a mess behind for me to clean up, which allowed him to go peacefully. I created Good To Go! to help the grieving in their death duties, but I had never anticipated how much peace it would also give to the dying. Of course, I never expected the company I created to help others would actually impact me in such a profound way. My mother’s estate took almost 2 years to close out. My granny’s estate took almost 2 years as well. My dad’s estate took 3 months. He and I had the tough conversations and he transferred the titles to his house and car to me upon his death and named me as his Payable On Death contact on his bank accounts, making all of the death duties much easier. Carrying out his wishes before and after he died, comforted me because I felt honored to do what he asked me to. Advance planning was his last gift to me and following his written and verbal instructions was my last gift to him. His willingness to sort everything out when there was no urgent need to, shaped my grief experience in a positive way.
I know it’s hard to convince you of the peace you don’t know you’re going to need, but advance planning will allow the time you have left (whether it’s 30 years or 6 months) to be filled with love rather than logistics. Isn’t that worth a few hours of your time to organize? The Conversation Project and Good To Go! make it easy for you. Celebrate living by planning for dying! After all, advance planning won’t kill you.
Amy Pickard is based in Los Angeles and travels across the country for Good To Go! parties and workshops.