DON’T JUST PICK YOUR PLOT
For the second time in my life, I’ve been notified, well after the fact, that my best friend has died. Close friends. Ones that I’ve spent years with. Cried with. Laughed with. Shared high school and jobs and children and late night vigils and the stuff that makes up ‘sisterhood.’
But despite this, no one in the family thought to let me know. Because of this, I could not attend the funeral. I could not grieve with the family. I could not share in the funny stories and the sad ones and add some of my own to theirs. I was denied closure.
You may be thinking: “Well they lost a loved one. You just lost a friend.” True and I do grieve their loss most particularly. But I do not make friends easily. And when I do, it is with my whole heart and for life. Should something cause us to drift apart due to transfers or moves, they can hear me whisper the famous phrase from “Last of the Mohicans”: “I WILL FIND YOU!” And I always do.
The first loss was my friend of childbearing years. Our children sort of came in three year spurts; but her two were sandwiched neatly between my first and last. We were phone friends mostly because after about 18 months, I went back to work and she did the same. Phones kept us alive and sane back then. We knew we could call with whatever was on our minds and the other was ready to discuss, dispense advice or just listen (a very rare quality these days.)
She was probably the wittiest woman I have ever known, a prolific writer and she was usually the one who called in the middle of the night with issues. But one of the funniest things she ever said was the intro to a 3am call: “Are you in the middle of anyone?” I wasn’t; but it took me five whole minutes to stop laughing.
I was the one who moved. But we still kept our phone friendship. We talked for an average of four hours twice a year: once in June (her birthday and our son’s were the same day; mine was nine days later); and once at Christmas. It was enough….until I called that last Christmas. Her husband told me she had been in a horrendous automobile accident, she’d been hospitalized for several weeks—and then she died—that AUGUST. I could have gone to see her. I could have said goodbye. But no one called.
My high school best friend initially thought I was ‘stuck up’ until I finally convinced her that I was painfully shy. Like I said, making friends was not easy for me. But we were close back then. In fact, I sat in the back of our HS auditorium one March night as we were rehearsing for our spring Play Nite. I asked her who the boy was painting flats on the stage. (He had minutes before taken my 3” paintbrush away and proceeded to start painting the flat himself with an 8” wallpaper brush.) She told me his name and I said, “I’m going to marry him.” This was before I knew his name, you understand.
My friend told me I didn’t want to have anything to do with him. He wasn’t the kind of guy she thought I should hang around with. But I asked him out that weekend (it was our equivalent of Sadie Hawkins Day when girls can ask guys out). For me to do this was Spirit led, let me tell you. He said yes. We just celebrated the 50th anniversary of that date and our 47th anniversary.
Both of us moved, but she moved first and often. I managed to find her in November of 2010, the fall before our 45th HS Reunion. She was ecstatic and so was I! In December of that year, on her anniversary in fact (I was her matron of honor, she was my maid of honor), she found out that she had ovarian cancer.
We stayed in close touch and I insisted that she plan to come to the reunion. After much discussion, completion of chemotherapy and an incredible wig, she agreed. And I’m so grateful for that, as were many of our HS contacts.
Within two years, she had brain cancer. After two surgeries and two rounds of chemo, I went to see her in May of this year. She had been to my home twice and I once prior to this visit. She was in the hospital due to an infection; but we spent several hours together over two days. She knew me and could understand me; but had great difficulty with speech.
We called again tonight to check on everything. Her husband tolds us that she died in July. No chance to be with the family. No chance to laugh and share stories. No closure.
So what is the point of this post? It’s just this: making those FINAL ARRANGEMENTS is a very important thing to do. If you haven’t made yours.
I have some suggestions that might be of benefit to you.
1. Take a small loose leaf notebook and into it place the copies of the things I will mention. Either give one to each relevant family member, especially whomever you elect as executor of your estate, or make sure every family member has a document telling them where this notebook is.
2. Make your arrangements, all of them, in advance. Do this before you become ill, before you are unable or just don’t have the energy. Save your family the incredible confusion that results if you don’t.
3. Let your family know that you are doing so. Though they are your arrangements to make, they may have suggestions or concerns.
4. Copies of your will (If YOU haven’t made one, the STATE has made one for you. And they don’t give a rip what you wanted to do with your stuff.). This should also name your executor.
Copies of any power of attorney or power of attorney for medical decisions information or living will that refers to your medical wishes should be included. This differs by state. So be sure you have the proper forms, that they are filled out completely and notarized or signed by the appropriate witnesses.
It is often helpful to notify your physician and make sure he/she has a copy attached to the INDSIDE FRONT of your chart if you are regularly cared for by the same MD or practice. This is especially important if you do not wish heroic measure to be taken in case you have a terminal illness (DNR order). Notifying your family in advance regarding your wishes and having them legally documented, saves everyone having to make trying decisions when they are least able to do so.
5. If you are financially able, decide on what you want done with your body (burial/cremation/donate to science) and prepay for these services. If you have arranged your ‘funeral’ care with a funeral home or mortuary in advance and paid for it, your family will not be subject to believing they have to ‘buy the best available’ at a time when they may not be thinking clearly. Make sure the family members have copies of these documents as well. It is far better for you to sit down with these people, choose what you wish from their assortment of services, pay for it (Or use an insurance plan that may be available. In the event of your death, if the entire amount is not paid, the rest is waived. This is what we have. It’s all paid for; arrangements made. No decisions for our family.)
6. If you are going to be buried, make sure the family has copies indicating your funeral home of choice, cemetery, plot and how your remains will be handled. There are usually charges for transporting a body from a distance, holding it for any length of time, and many, many other services that you may or may not wish to have your family utilize. If you do not completely preplan the entire funeral, you may want to at least discuss such things and how much they cost with your family beforehand.
7. Know what is required of your state regarding embalming. This may sound gross. But if you plan to be buried immediately, there is no need for embalming and it is a significant cost. It is not required for cremation at all, though many people think it is and pay for it needlessly.
8. If you wish to have any kind of service at your funeral or memorial, it is wise to plan that as well. You can pick who you wish to officiate and how to get in touch with them if it is not someone with whom the family is familiar. Leave a copy of the service: songs or hymns, scripture, poems or readings, whom you wish to give the eulogy and how to reach them (Might be good to ASK that person first!) If you want to have any memorabilia displayed (service connected medals, pictures, other articles that are uniquely YOU), make a list and make sure your family knows where to find these things.
9. And you might want to leave a list of friends that you wish to be notified upon your death. This is especially a lovely thing to do if you are having a memorial service rather than a funeral. It saves the family having to worry over who to notify or invite and insures that the people YOU care about most will know what has happened to you.
10. Take a weekend, go away somewhere, enjoy the idea of planning your own funeral, decide all the details, then return home and finalize everything by contacting all the relevant entities and persons. Make a trip to your funeral home of choice, pick out a casket or if you are going to be cremated, pick out an urn (or better yet, have someone make one for you!)
Decide if you are able to prepay everything or ask if payment or insurance plans are available to ease this portion of the arrangements.
When it’s all said and done and in your notebook, your family will thank you.
And so will your dear friends who get to come and tell you goodbye.