Despite regular threats to throw myself off the porch, which actually means grabbing a beer out of the garage fridge and heading to the front yard for a time out, I’m in no hurry to die, or overly curious about what happens “on the other side.” I’m just reminded of the topic now and then, like when my uncle died unexpectedly last year. His family found some letters outlining his last wishes in the event of his death. Keep in mind, he was 74, and while he wasn’t in poor health, at that age, one never knows. Unfortunately, he left the letters in the “drafts” folder of his email program and they weren’t found until after he was laid to rest. Nevertheless, my uncle would have been ecstatic about the send off his wife and four children gave him. Or more likely, he would have shrugged his shoulders and said, “Whatever’s right,” even if it wasn’t exactly what he’d written down.
I suppose he figured he’d have time to whisper the words, “drafts folder” from his deathbed, but alas, there were no last words that anyone was witness to. There was a tree, and a single car accident in the middle of an otherwise perfect, sunny Colorado afternoon.
I admire his courage to write down his last wishes. He also left letters to his wife and children, who were devastated by his untimely death. But having those letters, knowing they were written with the understanding that they would someday be navigating this world without him, must have brought them what I can only assume was a shred of comfort in a sea of pain. It’s a brave thing to do, to face one’s own mortality and write stuff down.
As soon as we returned home from the funeral, my husband and I had that conversation usually reserved for late in one’s life. But that’s the thing: How do we know how late (or early) it is in our life? One of my kids could be sneaking up behind me with a heavy frying pan as I write this.
My point is this: Why leave it to your grieving relatives, who will be furiously looking for your will, to make important decisions about your send-off? Regardless of how comfortable you are thinking about your own demise, isn’t it your responsibility? And besides, wouldn’t it be nice to have the last word, once and for all?
Here is how my letter to my children might look:
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope your Grand Theft Auto score or your rating on Kim K. is not terribly impacted; I’m sure you’ll be a C-lister in no time, even without my guidance. Regarding my last wishes and life in general, here you go:
You must do your chores this week, but take next week off. By then, the fridge and cupboards will be empty and you will be weak with malnourishment. Behind the microwave you’ll find a few twenties; call in a pizza.
Since you already know everything, all you must do is remember it, along with the location of your shoes, phone, homework and head, if it weren’t attached. Nevertheless, follow this last bit of advice if you want to get ahead in life, or at least to the corner: Accept your responsibilities and the consequences of your actions; treat others the way you would like to be treated; look both ways before you snatch the last slice of pizza.
Please cremate me. (In the event this letter is found while I’m still alive, I take that last sentence back). Please, no weepy gatherings in a dark mortuary with hard benches or I will haunt you for eternity. Have an outdoor get-together somewhere with wine, music and flushing toilets. Sprinkle my ashes to the winds at any location above 7000 feet. Whatever you do, please don’t leave my ashes in the closet for eternity, or until someone needs the shoebox to wrap a Christmas present in and I am poured into the recycle bin, which, come to think of it, would create a new circle of Dante’s hell and serve as fitting punishment for having sent so many wine bottles to the same demise.