The Collaborative Marriage: funerals, wills, and stuff I really don’t want to think about

How burying my sister brought details of my own death to light

Bethany Jo

My sister died recently. It was horrible. For all the reasons you might imagine, and because she passed without getting anything at all in place for that eventuality. It was a surprise to her, death.

My siblings and I gathered together to do the surreal job of getting her affairs in order, her young son doing an impressive job of being the man I’m sure he’ll one day grow up to be.

I write often about creating a plan for your life. It’s my nature to plan. But planning on death, well, a spark of imagination or motivation on that subject has simply always evaded me. I’ve used all the euphemisms to see if I could get a handle on things. “Estate Planning” is my favorite. “Estate Planning.” As though it’s the estate that matters.

But “Death Planning” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Here’s what finally sparked my motivation: Digging through my sister’s papers and bills and boxes of stuff. I didn’t want to be doing that, and not just for the obvious reason that it hurt like hell to be closing my sister’s life.

I didn’t want to be digging through her private life. I didn’t want to be uncovering deeply private parts of her story while looking for whether or not there were any other monthly charges that needed to be canceled.

Because of that, I’ve come to this: I may not have my estate in order, but I do, now, have a single document that has the essentials. If I die before my husband does, the big things that will need to be dealt with are easy to access for whomever it is that is helping him through the process of closing my life. He and the people around him won’t have to go digging under pressure.

What’s on that single page: If I die before Hal, everything goes to him and I would like him to take good care of our dog, Buckley. I would like to be cremated, my ashes released into water that has a good, strong current to it. Names and phone numbers of the people who have the details (bookkeeper, accountant, financial planner, lawyer). Where our life documents are located, and what my (very loose) system of organization is. And this: it is my dearest desire that when Hal tells friends and loved ones that I have died, that instead of flowers or mourning, that those I love would turn to a project dear to their heart and do a bit of work on it, with me in mind. I have always loved collaborating with people. I have a feeling that kind of energy would set me free.

Like what you read? Give alicia johnson a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.