Planning for End-of-Life is Like Musical Chairs
Updated: Apr 26, 2020
Will you be ready when the music stops?
I didn’t like grammar school. I spent more time in the principal’s office than in the classroom. My poor mother. She should have been an attorney. She got me out of all kinds of trouble in those days. My mother used the word “rambunctious.” She was being kind. Anyway, I didn’t like structure; I did enjoy my free time, like recess. I also liked a game we played: musical chairs. I enjoyed – battled – to be in a chair when the music stopped. I worked diligently to get the chair next Betsy, though it was more important to just get a chair. I didn’t want to be the loser standing when the music stopped. What would Betsy think?
When I think about my favorite subject – helping people prepare for their last day on earth – I am reminded of musical chairs. Where will you be when the music stops? Sitting, happily, or standing? Will you win, or lose? It’s entirely up to you.
It’s okay to die if you are prepared. It’s okay to die if you have prepared those you love. It’s not okay to die never having thought of how you might make it easier for your loved ones when you’re gone. The last statistic I read was 100% of us are going to die. Why not be ready when the music stops one day?
My mother, Helen, was a kind woman and loving parent. I had a wonderful relationship with her. She was my rock, an early mentor, and raving fan (even when I was undeserving). My dad had stepped out of the picture decades earlier, so she was numero uno in my book. Her generation grew up smoking. She couldn’t quit even after the doctors removed a good portion of her lungs. Amazingly, she lived another ten years, eventually requiring oxygen. Her last cig dangled from her mouth as she entered hospice. She died peacefully a few days later.
About six months before she died, she summoned her children. I am the eldest of three with two younger sisters. In 2007 my mother lived in the Villages, Florida and we didn’t, so we began taking turns flying in, staying a week or two, and then flying out after being relieved by a sibling. We are grateful for the time we got to spend with her those final months.
Here’s the point of the story: she knew the music was going to stop and did something about it. She put the remote down and got down to work putting her affairs in order. She had her children involved with every part of it. My sisters worked with our mother to figure out how assets would get distributed, for example. On my visits, we sorted old photos, reviewed her investments and named beneficiaries, accompanied her to the bank to prepare her checking and savings accounts. We visited the DMV, put in calls to her attorney, and so on. Nearly everything that we could think of had been completed before she entered hospice.
My sisters and I had never helped someone prepare for death before. We were novices as was my mother. But we figured it out, and you can too.
Helen died peacefully, and the few remaining “to-do” items were not a nightmare for us. We sold her home without any drama and the final bills got paid. The experience was a powerful lesson. If you care about your loved ones, get your affairs together. Please don’t leave it to them after you’re gone. Don’t be left standing when the music stops.