Everyone has a personal story to tell about the death of a loved one. This is mine.
On the bright, sunny morning of May 4, 2006, I was driving in my car, headed to the mall for a few things. I was in a hurry, and had much to do, but the day was glorious and spring had finally arrived in New England, and my heart was light.
Then my cell phone rang, and my brother said “Mom’s dead”. My world immediately turned upside down. Panic, tears, and uncontrollable grief engulfed what was once a beautiful spring day.
The day before her death, she sought out her doctor as she had increasing discomfort in her swollen legs. She died unexpectedly sometime during the night, we learned, from a pulmonary embolism. My father tried to wake her after his routine shower before work and she was dead, in bed (just like we would all like to die).
My mother’s sudden death was a shock. I had spoken to her the night before about who was being voted off American Idol. I thought about the last words I said to her, and her last words to me. I sorted through that last conversation, searching for meaning, but finding only the comfort of an everyday exchange between my best friend and me. And then the thought came, hard and fast: there would be no more conversations…about anything.
I promptly changed directions on the highway, physically shaking, and called my husband. “Nonnie died” is what I recall saying. I remember the feeling of profound sadness that swept over me when I spoke those words aloud making her death a reality. My mind raced thinking about how to get to my Dad as fast as possible and how to do that safely while in the grief stricken stupor I found myself in. My parents lived seven hours away by car. I sobbed for the entire drive to my childhood hometown.
The moment I arrived, I had to get a grip on my emotions, because my father, brother, and I were thrown into the mountainous task of making rapid-fire decisions and arrangements with no map, directions, or guidance previously communicated to us by my mother. The phone rang off the hook.
We spent countless hours searching for documents, double-checking facts and details about her life for her obituary, wracking our brains to remember conversations we had years ago, and making and answering a multitude of hurried phone calls. We ran copious errands, fought red tape, and had meetings with attorneys, funeral directors, clergy, florists, doctors and insurance agents.
All of this had to be accomplished in the midst of staggering grief. All of this was somehow happening in what felt like a hurricane. We were in the dark as to how Mom would have like to have been honored in the end. So we did our best and hoped that she would have approved of her final send off.
Days, weeks and months after the service, we were still trudging blindly through the seemingly endless details of letting go of a life. Sifting through and sorting for distribution her belongings and photographs. Conversations with friends, gardeners and attorneys. People to notify, accounts to cancel.
Attempting to hold our collective grief intact while supporting each and managing her affairs was extremely difficult. Making sure Dad was OK was a top priority. Sleepless, bleary eyed, restless nights were the norm. Somehow we managed, even though the days seemed to be permanently in overdrive.
The irony of it all is that Nonnie would have hated that. She would have hated that at the end of her life she became a burden to us. We learned a very hard lesson a very hard way, but Nonnie also ended up giving me a real gift; the gift of preparedness.
My Mom’s death helped me understand that keeping ones affairs in order is a real gift to your loved ones. The absence of planning and communicating your plan leaves many questions unanswered at a great cost, both emotionally and financially, to those left behind sorting out the pieces of your life. In the years that followed Mom’s death, grief slowly settled into my spirit, and was allowed it’s space, but I wasn’t able to be present to it during the days and weeks following her death because I was so lost in the search for matters both practical and profound.
If we had talked about death before she died and prepared for it, I am convinced we would have found more peace as a family, and been able to gather around and share our grief without being sideswiped by endless questions. Been able to spend time celebrating her life, rather than sorting through paperwork.
My mother’s sudden death led to the formation of LastingMatters. I am passionate about changing the way people view the topic of death. I want to make conversations about death and dying practical and helpful, not morbid and fearful.
As a former estates and trusts paralegal, I spent countless hours sifting through a clients desk drawers, basements and attics trying to piece together an inventory for the Court of their personal, business, and financial assets. It was tedious and costly.
Often, I observed widows lost in the magnitude of the tasks immediately following the death of their spouse. Many times families lacked direction for funeral or memorial services, or the knowledge of whether or not a parent had wished to be cremated or buried. No one was having those kinds of conversations. And if they had, no one could remember, or agree upon, what was said.
Death is inevitable and everyone dies. We don’t know when, but we do know that 100% of us will die.
Yet death is an extraordinarily difficult topic to face and discuss with loved ones. At the same time, having the conversations and documenting your personal information and intentions is a wonderful lasting gift to those left behind.
I created the LastingMatters Organizer to help people begin to consider, compile, document and determine how and what they want their loved ones to know upon their death. Taking time to capture their personal information and intentions will greatly reduce the costs, time, guesswork, potential family conflicts, and stress associated with death. And keeping all of this information safely located in one place will help their loved ones find far more than just their final intentions; it will help them find true peace of mind.
My mother’s death helped remind me what matters most. Living in the present, being able to love freely, laugh easily and grieve deeply. I hope that The Lasting Matters Organizer will help others find what matters most, too.