Spoiler alert: This is one of those topics that is necessary but not fun. Dealing with death.
I was talking with my older sister recently and she told me a family story I had not heard before. My grandpa Tom passed away when I was one month old. He was dying an early death from a combination of cancer and black lung disease, a suffocating condition caused by years of working in coal mines. Although I was too young to have knownr him my sister, seven years older, remembers him.
Linda said one day in the summer before he passed, Grandpa Tom took her to a park. Just the two of them. They played for a while but then Grandpa took her to sit at a picnic table. He grew serious and tried to explain he was not going to be around much longer. When you’re seven this is a hard conversation to grasp and Sis said she doesn’t think she really understood it at the time. But, looking back at it, she knows what he was trying to do. Prepare her for his impending death.
Sometimes we do not have time for these conversations. A sudden car crash. An unforeseen accident. And in a moment, we’re gone. Our death leaves our loved ones breathless and dazed.
But sometimes we can tell death is creeping up on us. We try to wear a brave face. Be strong for the family. Still, many of us dodge the conversation we most need to have. Preparing loved ones for our departure.
This prep conversation is something all of us can begin having, regardless of whether death seems imminent or distant. As we grow older—but not too old—we need to talk with our family about LAU: life after us.
There are lots of books and articles about preparing your final will. Planning your funeral. Disposing of belongings. But precious little has been written about preparing your loved ones for life after you leave. How do we do that?
I confess, I have only a few ounces of experience on this subject. I have tried to talk to my family about life after Jim. I’ve told them, if I died today, they should know I’ve enjoyed a great life. I have been loved well and have few regrets. I know they will probably miss me when I’m gone but it won’t be the end of their world. That my greatest legacy will not be the number of trials I’ve won or the awards I’ve been given. My greatest legacy will be them.
Yes, I have written a will and signed Do Not Resuscitate papers. I’ve sketched out what my funeral service should look like. But most of all I want to have prepared my living legacies, not my legal papers. I want my family to know, whether I die suddenly or slowly, I have loved loving them, that I’m proud of them, and that their lives may outlast mine but my love for them and in them will never pass away.
Is it kinda morose to have this talk? Maybe, a little. But the fact is none of us is getting out of this life alive. Begin preparing you family for that certainty. Sooner, rather than later.