Let's talk about Dying: A checklist for checking out

2013-07-23 10:00

Joe’s dying taught me that bank accounts get closed on death and that access to money is not that simple or speedy

When my husband Joe Slovo died, my eldest daughter had just turned 15 and her younger sister was 10. In the months that followed, I worried about what would happen to them if something happened to me.

I made a new will. I opened a bank account in my daughter’s name and deposited emergency money. I showed my girls where to find the file called “In the event of my death – Mum”. Joe’s dying taught me that bank accounts get closed on death and access to money is not that ­simple or speedy.

Was I unnaturally preoccupied? A bullet through the skylight of my kitchen three years later made me think ever-readiness for death is not unreasonable. Bad stuff happens all the time.

A friend of mine was a passenger in a car. There was a head-on collision and she was the only survivor of the eight involved.

A father was on his cellphone as he waited in his car for his son to finish changing after a school cricket match. Cellphone thieves left him dead, with a bullet in his head.

A member of my family, parked in my driveway, once listened to thieves asking: “Shall we kill him or shall we not?” How many of us have our own stock of these stories?

Are you ready if something were to happen to you today? The incidents above all involved sudden death. Each person left home that day expecting to return. There was no reason for any special goodbyes with loved ones.

This is my work-in-progress checklist for dying:

» Conversations: All the people I love must know what they mean to me in my life. If there are relationships in which forgiveness needs to be asked for or be offered, then it’s been done. Any ongoing unresolved stuff is receiving my best effort.

» My will: Is my current will comprehensive? Did I change the beneficiaries of my pension funds? What about covering my mum’s medical costs? Who gets which painting? What about mementos to friends?

» Power of attorney: I’m currently lucid and can write my signature – but what do I need to have drawn up in case of emergency (like a car accident that puts me in a coma)?

» My living will: What end-of-life interventions are acceptable to me? Have I registered my document and left a copy with my doctor?

» Advance directives: It’s true I’ve hit menopause – and now I’m a candidate for dementia. What would my current conscious competent self like to stipulate for if I lose my mind?

» My body: Do I want to donate body parts for medical purposes or not?

» My funeral: How would I like family and friends to mark my exit? Rituals create frameworks that are comforting and this is as much about them as it is about me.

» My remains: Do I want to be buried? I have a plot available in Avalon Cemetery, Soweto, alongside Joe. Or have things changed? Would I prefer cremation and for my ashes to be scattered? If so, where? My brother tells me he wants an “ecoburial” in a ­designated woodland.

» My passwords and PIN numbers: I need to know my family can access my phone. They might want to let my friends know I’m dead. And what about my computer password? Someone told me of a man who had taken the trouble to write out in detail his entire funeral wishes. But he never printed them and his wife could not access his PC.

You could have all that in place and still not feel ready. Being ready in your head is the bigger challenge.

– helena.dolny@gmail.com

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