As a Grief Coach, I have found through my experiences that speaking of death and dying is the “final frontier” of conversation. We speak freely of every possible subject in life, and the “oh my gosh” topics of every kind have become fair game. The idea of death, however, brings with it a fear like no other, a mythological power of perhaps jinxing your own life or that of another by speaking or thinking of death. Naturally, we fear that which we do not understand. Fortunately we now know that awareness, education, and conversations empower us and facilitate the blossoming of life.
When my son died in 1996, I had already been a facilitator at Ele’s Place (a healing center for grieving children who have experienced a significant death in their family) in Lansing for two years. During those two years, my own family talked, wondered, and asked questions of ourselves and of each other. The youngest of the children were then 7 and 9, and the “what if” thoughts of our own death or the death of one of us, pausing for momentary or long conversations – even the ceremony for Sophie the hamster – were all priceless. We were contemplating, talking, and listening to one another!
When my oldest son Demetrius died, we grieved intensely but we were a bit ahead of most families having given death some thought and squinty eyed looks. And just as good grief requires that you lean into your heart, dying well requires foresight, planning, and conversation. There are tools available that can assist you in the organizing of your life and preparation for your inevitable death or that of someone in your care.
There are companies, like Peaceful Crossings LLC, a holistic legacy planning company, that can help you through this planning process. By working with a legacy coach and associated legacy kit, you can not only collect and organize every important document your survivors may need after your death but you are gently guided through the conversations you need to have about your own passing. You’re guided through the necessary logistical and legal decisions that need to be made, documented, and communicated about your personal directives.
The process is thorough, compassionate, and inclusive of every possible kind of detail right down to locations of your storage or safe box along with the keys and lock combinations. How many times have you heard of someone spending endless time and energy “picking up the pieces” for a parent or relative? This nightmare can be avoided.
The actual task of getting organized and meeting with your attorney, estate planner, insurance agent, etc., is something we know we should do but it’s something many people dread so it gradually moves to the bottom of the to do list. Fortunately, the collecting, organizing, and updating of information is only a small but important piece of this process. By working with a legacy coach, you’re provided with a confidential coach who can not only walk you through the process, but will also encourage you, support you, preserve your privacy, and hold you accountable for timelines so that you actually get your affairs in order. We all know people who have meant well but failed to follow through. Their families and loved ones are left not only with grief, but in many cases legal and financial ramifications that can last years.
A good legacy coach will provide helpful information and ask you insightful questions that will lead you to your own answers. If you find a coach that tries to insert their own answers for you or you aren’t comfortable with the rapport you build, keep looking for another legacy coach.
The details that your coach will help you with may not be ones that you would have thought of on your own. For example, who will adopt your pets? How will that person afford them? Who will need your car and where are the keys to that car? There are so many questions to ask, but the answers to those questions at the conclusion of your life will be the greatest gift you can leave to your loved ones. Their job will be difficult at best (they will be grieving for you!), but they will not have to spend weeks or even years trying to figure out which bank you banked with, where the safe deposit box key is, or what investments you may have and who your broker is. You made all of that easier by planning ahead and updating the information once a year, with the guidance of your legacy coach.
The process of working with a legacy coach can actually be quite fun and thought provoking. With your legacy and directives clear, complete, and conveyed, great peace of mind is gained. Imagine the fullness and freedom of knowing that you have done your very best for those near to you. Believe me, your family will thank you!
Once you have your requisite affairs in order, you can also work with your legacy coach to identify both those things that you want to yet experience or accomplish in your life, often called a bucket list. And your legacy coach can also help you identify and work toward memorial plans and directives, which can include everything from planning your memorial service or life celebration to stories, treasures, mementos or other ways you plan to pass on your legacy to your loved ones. These are all powerful measures designed to celebrate the life you have lived, while you’re here and after you’re gone!
Other services will enhance your loved ones’ memories of you and help them celebrate the unique life that you have lived. Memorial plans and directives can actually be informative, interesting, and even fun to plan for your family or with your family. Your coach will encourage and facilitate the planning process, and during the process your family will learn more about you than they thought possible (“Mom, I never knew you wanted to be a race car driver”). This can lead to greater connections to each other, (“I want you to know I am sorry for never telling you how much I love you, I‘m telling you now, I am so proud of you and I love you!”), and provides an opportunity to intentionally mend or heal relationships, create a bucket list, and assess your life thus far. Lives will be changed in the process!
In addition to initiating meaningful conversation, you can give a lasting gift of your Self, by creating and recording messages to those who are nearest and dearest to you. There are many companies, like my company, Peaceful Crossings, available that provide services for you to preserve lasting memories through story telling, autobiography, collage, video, audio, portraiture, and most any other means of expression you require or can imagine. You can creatively express the life you have lived and the love you have experienced and expressed as a result of your loved ones. Creating these types of legacy media can provide your loved ones with gifts they will hold tightly to and appreciate each day as they remember you and celebrate the life you shared.
Making the actual funeral or memorial arrangements can be the most difficult part of the planning process because it comes at the most difficult time for your grieving family. The more details you have proactively identified and pre-planned the easier it will be for them. Additionally, funding your wishes and discussing the details with multiple family members so everyone is clear is another gift you can give them to reduce their stress during their grief when you’re gone.
What will best express the mighty spirit of you? What can you possibly imagine? What will create a lasting impression? Do you want a party? What about an excursion? What is your favorite music, your theme song? Where do you want the service to be held? Do you want to be cremated? Do you want to donate your organs and tissues? Do you want to contribute to a great non-profit or meaningful cause? What are your options?
Can you have a green burial, a home funeral? What is or is not important to you, and what will your family want to decide for themselves? These are difficult questions that get easier as you create your vision; and your coach can help inform and educate you on your many options available, as well as the environmental impact of those choices. The possibilities are endless….
This is your life! And it will be your death. Dying well requires that you consider what it will look like and participate in the planning process. The first step in preparing is to proactively gather your resources, options, family, a coach and attitude. With that support and your plan in place, you will be free to Live Well, with confidence that you have made the best possible effort for those near to you. Now Live Well!