One of my ex-boyfriends found the idea of bucket lists really morbid and was horrified when I asked him, conversationally, what he wanted to achieve or do before he dies. (I’m always asking questions like that. It must be such smooth talk that helped me woo my husband.)
Given the reaction, I can only imagine how he (and no doubt others reading this) would feel about this blog post, which is going to be the first in a set of two. In one – this one – I want to outline my wishes for when I die. And in part two (which I’ll put out probably tomorrow, if I see it), I plan to share a eulogy for myself – written by myself, about myself (because who better to write it?) – to be read at my eventual funeral.
Cheery, cheery stuff, I think to myself, with a heavy dose of sarcasm; but here’s the thing: I don’t find thinking, or talking, or writing about death morbid. Not really. I find it fascinating, which is maybe morbid in itself, I guess.
Maybe it’s down to having been severely depressed for a lot of years, and suicidal on and off during that time, but I think about death a lot. I’ve formulated a lot of strong opinions about it. And – here’s the main, main thing – I am going to die. Everyone is. That’s not bad news, or good news; it shouldn’t even be news, just a simple fact. Facts hold no emotion. They don’t have to be scary.
Now, having just said that, I’m aware I’ve probably spooked a few people reading this already, so let be backtrack a bit before I proceed: I would just like to clarify that I am not currently depressed or suicidal, I don’t have some terminal condition, and I don’t particularly foresee myself dying in the near future. But it will come, at some point – maybe tomorrow, or next year, or before I finish writing this blog post. We don’t and can’t know when, but can be certain it will happen sooner or later. So, me being the very organized person that I am, I thought I would plan ahead and put my wishes down in black and white so there’s never any uncertainty about them. Also, I want to open a discussion, because I think talking about death before we have to face it is not only a good idea, but the most reasonable idea around.
There’s actually I novel on my ‘to read’ list at the moment called ‘They Both Die at the End’, in which two characters are told in advance that they have 24 hours left to live. In mentioning this to my husband, he said very firmly that, if such technology existed to give us this forewarning, he wouldn’t want it. I, on the other hand (shock, horror), would sign up in a (perhaps somewhat ironic) heartbeat. Because, for me, being told in advance would give me a great deal of peace of mind.
I am a planner, you see. I’m what you would call (if you’re pretentious, like me) ‘goal orientated.’ I have eight different ‘to do’ lists on my phone, which break down everything I want achieve ranging from today to eleven years from now. No, I’m not joking. There is a lot of shit I want to do with my life. If I knew I had 24 hours left? I’d know to toss out 97% of my self-appointed tasks and focus on the ones that matter. But ah, a girl can dream. The tech doesn’t exist, so this is all a very moot point other than to emphasize that, for me*, planning for death isn’t a negative thing, but a means to distil what’s special about the time between now and then, and focus on what we want that time to be.
I’m not going to focus on what I want to do with my life here, because I have ten other blog posts for that, so I’ll crack on with my actual wishes for when I die.
*Disclaimer: This should really go without saying, but just in case it doesn’t: this is a personal post. Everything I have shared and discussed is true of myself as of this current point in time. It might and indeed probably will change. I’m not asking people who are not me to agree. I won’t be offended if you think differently or have entirely different wishes. This isn’t intended as an outline of what I think others should do or how they should feel. This is just me, and what I think.
Part One: As I Lay Dying
- Assuming my husband is still alive and of a sound mind at the time, I am entirely happy with him making end of life decisions for me when I can’t. If I’m not responsive and he feels it’s right to switch off whatever machine is keeping me alive, for example, I trust his judgement. No one should try and fight him on the matter. Outside of myself, he’s the person who knows me best and whom I trust the most.
- In such a case that Steve isn’t able to make such a decision for whatever reason, I suggest going for whichever option is thought to bring me the most peace. If I get a terminal illness that means I’ll likely have days left to live instead of weeks, or months instead of years, I don’t want to spend that precious time fighting inevitability with pills and toxins. My priority is quality over quantity.
- All being well, and if at all possible, I want to die at home in my own bed, not a hospital.
- If Steve is no longer around when I pass, I don’t want the rights and responsibilities of my next of kin to default back to my biological family – my parents and siblings. Those who know me best, which is to say my friends (or, as I think of them, family through choice), should be the ones making the calls. Unless, of course I have kids, in which case their thoughts and feelings should be top priority. (N.B. In the version of this blog post saved to my hard drive, I’m going to include a list of friends, named specifically if they need to be called upon. I’m not going to post those names publically.) If I do have children and they are old enough to understand what is happening but are under eighteen and therefore not able to have a say legally, I want the relevant friend in charge of proceedings to still consult them and very much take what they say into account.
Part Two: In the Immediate Aftermath of Death
- Use any organs for donations to others that are fit to do so.
- Cremate what’s left.
- Return my ashes to the relevant person in charge for them to dispose of as they see fit. I think I’d like to be scattered in a graveyard, maybe, but I’m not too bothered on this point. I just don’t think you should keep the urn hanging around (unless, of course, my family specifically feel the need to. I’m happy for them to keep it if they really want).
- Grieve in any way you can. Don’t dare let anybody tell you how to feel, or that you’re processing death ‘wrong.’ There is no wrong way to process death.
Part Three: The Ceremony
- I would like there to be some kind of gathering in the event of my death, but I’m fairly free and easy about how it should be.
- If there is a gathering, it should be a free and easy affair. No pomp, no formality, no religious aspect. People should wear whatever makes them feel comfortable. It is to be a judgement–free event.
- I want the eulogy I wrote for myself to be read (more on that in the next blog post).
Part Four: Everything After
- As my favourite vampire slayer once said, ‘The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Live, for me.’
- Always quote Buffy the Vampire Slayer when at all possible.
- Remember that it’s always possible to squeeze in a Buffy quote, no matter how vague or unrelated.
- Take whatever time you need.
- Don’t take life too seriously, nobody gets out alive.