I guess I'm old enough now that it's not that unusual for people younger than me to be dying! In the past month I've been to a funeral for a 20 year old who died in his sleep from cardiac arrest, another man close to my age just died two weeks after learning he had Stage 4 cancer, and just this week, the son of a friend died in his sleep. Reason for death has not yet been determined.
While we'd all like to just slip away in the middle of the night, hopefully pain-free and unaware that we've even left this world behind, the passing still leaves a huge void in the lives of those who loved the one who died.
I'm the one who's always encouraging people to record the information that will help their loved ones continue after they're gone. While I do believe that being prepared helps remove a huge burden from the family, I believe there are other things that are even more important.
Here are a few suggestions. I believe they're listed in the order of importance.
1. Get yourself straight with God. If you're carrying the burden of sin in your life, repent and ask to be forgiven. If those sins are of a more serious nature, confess them to your clergy and ask for help. There are steps to be taken. While it's better to ask forgiveness on a daily basis in your prayers, confession at any time means that you recognize your sins and are willing to do whatever it takes to leave them behind. Don't drag them with you to the Pearly Gates.
2. Make sure your relationships are in order. If someone has hurt you, go to them and offer them your forgiveness. If you've hurt someone else, let them know you've forgiven them. When my mother was dying, the hospice nurse encouraged us to get it all out while we still could. We spent the next month apologizing and reaffirming our love for each other, and by the time she passed away, both of our hearts were lighter.
3. Write letters. Put your feelings in writing. Loved ones appreciate having a piece of you to hold on to after you're gone. If your family is really lucky, you've been keeping a journal that will give them a record of your life.
4. Make a video. Some people just can't write. You don't need a script. Just turn on the video and start talking. Your family will love being able to see you and hear your voice when time starts to steal those memories from them.
5. Be positive. This isn't the time to tell people what's wrong with them. Give them something positive to hold on to. Let them remember you as someone full of courage -- someone who ENcouraged rather than DIScouraged.
6. Make sure you have a will written in the state where you live and that it is current. Don't leave the family fighting over what you've done, but make sure your wishes are carried out by an executor you can trust. If there are minor children, be specific about what you want for them.
7. Make sure your life insurance policy has the correct beneficiary. Won't make your current spouse very happy if you forgot to change it after your divorce.
8. Plan your funeral. Encourage your family to use this as a celebration of your life. Choose your speakers. Choose the hymns. Pick your casket. Make sure they know if you have a cemetery lot or have already made arrangements. Tell them what you want your headstone to say. One of my personal favorites is, "I told you I was sick."
9. Designate who gets what. Let your family know how to distribute your possessions. If Grandma's handmade quilt was promised to Abigail, make sure it's written down. If Susan is the one who's been promised your wedding ring, she'll need more than your verbal approval once you're gone. Put it in writing.
10. Be sure your spouse has the information they will need to handle the estate. This is the time to share any secrets you've been keeping about insurance policies, bank accounts, or money that's hidden behind the wall. You can't take it with you, anyway, so let your family know. It might be the very thing that keeps them from losing the house.
They say that a dying man never regrets not spending more time at work. Instead, he regrets not spending more time with his family. So it makes sense that if you knew you were dying, or that your time was limited, you would forget about the daily grind and focus on your family.
Getting your relationships in order should be your first priority. Not only do you not have control over your own mortality, but you don't have control over the lives of others. We always think we'll get around to saying or doing this or that, but if you talk to someone who's suffered a loss, they will all tell you there's so much more they would have done, if they had known they wouldn't be with that loved one again. Maybe it's just that final hug as they walked out the door, or the final "I love you," as they drove away.
Whatever it is that you need to do to make things right with your loved ones, do it now. The clock is ticking and unlike Superman, we don't have the ability to rewind and change the course of history.