When Death Comes Knocking

Don't let your loved ones answer the door with their pants down

We’re all going to die! But no, really. We are. Like most people in middle age, especially after a global event that has forced us to watch and mourn as millions of people die fairly suddenly, the presence of death has become harder to ignore. Perhaps younger and more carefree people (are there any of those anymore?) may be able to file that inevitability into the backs of their brains, but it has been at the forefront of mine for years, and I’m sure I’m not alone. As someone who is apt to bring up the subject, I’ve found that most people still don’t want to think about it, which, of course, makes at once very much sense and absolutely no sense. Ignoring it won’t prevent it, and may actually expedite it if it impedes someone from taking proper precautions and seeking preventive care. But I get it; it’s scary. I am terrified. The simple fact is though that denial is really making this thing more difficult for those left behind.

Our society needs to reach a level of comfort with discussing death and the details of how it’s handled, instead of pretending like it’s only those anxiety-ridden morbid few who are willing to hear about it. When do we stop calling it catastrophizing and start calling it level-headed preparation for the deaths of yourself and those around you? Or maybe it’s a potayto-potahto distinction depending on the perspective of your listener. Either way, it must be faced.

The Nitty-Gritty

The cold, hard practical details of your existence need to be laid out if you don’t want your loved ones stressing over not knowing where to even start when it comes to the paperwork. A will would be handy, but less than half the adults in the United States have one. I get that, too; lawyers are scary, but you could also download a statutory will for your state for free and fill in the blanks. Statutory wills can’t be customized or altered, but it’s better than nothing if you have the basic assets–a house, a car, and children. The people you leave behind will need to know what bank accounts and investments you have, what life insurance policies you’re paying on (speaking of life insurance, it might be a good idea to get some while we’re talking about this), how much you owe and to whom, and so on.

Digital Footprint

Even if you don’t care what happens to your online presence when you’re gone, I assure you you’re loved ones will. Seeing the face of the dearly departed on a suggested friends list or getting an email from a late relative when his account gets hacked with no one there to notice can be unsettling, or even heartbreaking. Do you set a “legacy contact” to memorialize your Facebook account, or do you have it deleted because who needs that crap in life let alone death? After what duration of inactivity do you tell Google to go ahead and call it quits on you? No one is expecting you to have a plan in place to scrub your name from every corner of the internet, but social profiles and private emails should be considered. If you desperately need anything else deleted after your passing, please don’t tell me what it is.

The Little Stuff

The little things you do to make it easier for your survivors will matter. I’m very intrigued by Swedish death cleaning, or döstädning, which is the practice of organizing and decluttering your possessions before your departure from the planet so that those left behind don’t have to. As a minimalist and as someone who has had to decide on whether to trash or save loved ones’ belongings, I recommend this. One person’s life-changing magic is another person’s considerate death prep.

You could also, if it’s important to you, start compiling a list of songs to play at your memorial. Or, if you’re not that into music, maybe suggest an activity that people could do to come together in their grieving for you. Think of anything that could add a personal touch to the healing process for your friends and family.

A few bucks on Amazon can get you an end-of-life planner with a cheeky title such as “I’m dead. Now what?” printed on the front. In this macabre little composition book, you can record your wishes at great length and in detail. It’ll include the usual stuff like accounts and arrangements, but also allow you to list things like your dentist’s name and your utility providers and let you specify who gets your cat and where you buried your tin cans of cash. However, if this sounds like a great thing to get for your aging mother (it is), maybe don’t present it as a birthday gift.

I’m sorry about this, guys. I don’t want you to die either, but this advice is to benefit the living, may you be among them for many, many more years to come.