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I asked my mother if she was ready to die

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Then I spoke to end-of-life experts. Here's what I discovered.

Shaina Feinberg And

Shaina is a writer and filmmaker who interviewed her mother for this story. Julia is an illustrator.

Recently, I had the following conversation with my mother, Mary, 82:

Me: Are you ready to die?

My mother: Not really. But I am prepared with my papers.

You may be wondering why I was asking my mother about her end-of-life preparation. Well, when my father, Paul, died suddenly a few years ago, we were completely unprepared.

“Dad and I never talked about what he wanted for his funeral,” my mother said. “He was 74 when he died and he was in pretty good shape.”

On top of everything she had to do after his death, like planning the funeral, there was also the stress of finances and paperwork. “We had a joint checking account, but there wasn't a lot of money. Our other bank account had more money, but only in his name. I had to sort that out, which took a while.

The most helpful advice my mother received after my father died? “My best friend, Fran, said to me, 'Get a lot of death certificates because you're going to have to send them to people and sometimes they don't want the Xerox, they want the real one.' I received 15 death certificates from the funeral home.

Preparing to die is complicated. Is that a euphemism? You need to consider the emotional, spiritual and financial aspects. We spoke with three end-of-life experts who told us how to make this massive project a little more manageable.

According to a survey conducted by Ethos, fewer than half of Americans have discussed their end-of-life plans with their loved ones. Still, having these conversations is important, said Sarah Chavez, executive director of the nonprofit The Order of the Good Death, which provides resources for learning about and planning for death.

“These discussions can be awkward,” Ms. Chavez said, “but by planning and talking about these things, it’s a real gift to the family left behind.”

While you're thinking about what to do with your body, you'll also want to think about what to do with your stuff. “In principle, everyone should have some documents in place during their lifetime,” said Michael Pevney, an estate planning attorney practicing in California. (He also makes estate planning videos on TikTok.)

No matter what you decide to do with your body or your belongings, you will need someone to carry out your requests.

If you don't want to ask your loved ones about their death plans, there are other ways to approach the subject. “The easiest way is to open the family photo album and start having conversations about the people in the photos,” said Joél Simone Maldonado, a funeral director and death educator. “The conversation always revolves around what people liked or didn't like about a funeral or grieving process. » Maldonado suggests using these conversations as a springboard to ask questions about people's hopes at the end of life. And take notes.

The only upside of being so unprepared for my father's death is that now my mother is super prepared. “I have several files in a closet of all the things you will need to do when I die,” she said. “I have you listed as power of attorney, so you can write a check for the funeral. I've already paid for my grave. I will be next to Dad, under the same tombstone.

When I asked my mother how she felt looking at the empty side of the tombstone, she replied, “This is my side.” I have a place! Oh, and remember,” she added, “I always wanted a mariachi band at my funeral.” Noted.


Produced by Rebecca Lieberman.

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