My husband recently passed away. He was my true love and he always judged a restaurant by the quality of their Manhattans straight-up. When my Mom pestered me to “take care of our wills,” soon after we were married, I thought she was being morbid. “We just finished planning our wedding and now you want us to plan our funeral,” I asked. Yes, she said. And then added, “You’re in the right mindset.” Whatever. But I knew she was right. I knew we needed to prepare for death, whenever it may appear, and that it required a plan, several plans actually, a legal will, a ceremony and a very good bartender.
So, my true love and I went out to our favorite restaurant, ordered Manhattans straight-up and talked about what would happen if one of us died suddenly. We began the conversation backwards, deciding that we definitely wanted to be cremated and not buried, as if we were reverse engineering our deaths. “Do you want your ashes scattered in Yosemite,” I asked, my true love had spent a lot of time camping in the national parks. “I want you to plant a tree with my ashes, preferably one that blooms, I said. And I want you to hold a party and invite all my friends, and hire the band from our wedding so everyone can dance.” My true love looked at me and said, “we are not going to die, tomorrow.” I know, I whispered, but I do not want you to remember me with sadness, I want you to remember our happiness together. I want it to be a party.” Just then our dinners arrived, and we changed the subject to our honeymoon. I took a sip of my wine, thinking about the sunsets and remembered when my Dad was diagnosed with lymphoma two years earlier and how my Mom became his advocate and caregiver. My book club had read Atul Kawande’s Being Mortal, on Oprah’s recommendation, and I still couldn’t forget how his Dad faced his death with such courage, just like my true love, an atheist, would ten years later. “We need a living will and medical power of attorney. What should I do if the hospital wants to put you on a ventilator?” “We need a lawyer, my true love said, who can explain to us the laws in our state, they are different everywhere.” “I want dessert,” I said. I didn’t really want dessert but I felt we needed to talk more. We needed to talk about our possessions. My true love had a collection of baseball cards that he had collected since he was ten years old and a few were very valuable. His younger brother had also collected cards and they still sometimes traded cards. I had recently begun collecting glass paperweights. Would we each inherit the other’s possessions? All these details would go into our wills, we decided.
The above is part fiction and part factual. My true love did become ill eleven years after we met and died exactly one day before our eighth wedding anniversary in August, which is why I haven’t been very active. He loved Manhattans straight-up and always judged his restaurants by how dry or sweet they made them. We had several conversations, not one, at our favorite restaurant and some at home. We did consult a lawyer and this is advisable even though several documents can be obtained on-line.
Most importantly, we were prepared. He had his advance directives in place, a will and pre-paid his cremation. We had discussed where he wanted to scatter his ashes and he chose the national park in our hometown, Weir Farm, part of the National Park Service. I knew I wanted to have a ceremony that celebrated his life so all of us – his family and friends and even some colleagues- would come together to remember and support one another in our grief. Together we planned where this would take place and the type of celebration it would be. It comforted both of us knowing that we had a plan. It will comfort you too.