As a child, I lived in the tiny rural village of Patutahi, just out of Gisborne, nestled between fields of corn (or was it maize?), close to the land Witi Ihimaera writes of in his fabulous novels. A sickly kid (my parents were told I wouldn’t live past age six), with skinny legs, pale skin and dark hair, I was also very happy. The highlight of my week (if I was well enough) was to go to Brownies, where the wonderful Robyn Richardson (I wonder where she is now?) led maybe 15 of us to explore ways of relating to others. I don’t remember much, except a dusty old hall, a two finger salute, and the pledge: “I promise to do my best…” it started. And of course, the ubiquitous motto, “be prepared.”
Many years on, that motto is firmly embedded in my psyche. The boot of my car carries an assortment of rugs, shoes and shopping bags neatly stacked in plastic trays, and the glove box holds rubber gloves (of course!), tissues, spare reading glasses, and extra CDs for those long journeys in Auckland traffic.
And more recently - as a funeral celebrant - I’m aware of the need to be prepared in respect to our lives, and especially the end of lives. Death is inevitable, yet many of us are fearful of talking about it, even with those close to us. Preparing for the end of our physical life makes it easier for our families, whether the death is expected or not. My friend Deborah Wilkinson tragically lost her husband to cancer, and was shocked to find how much she had to untangle after his death. Her easy-to-read book, Where’s the Password? provides practical tips about steps to take - a must-read for all adults.
Here are a few things you might like to consider putting in place:
Power of Attorney: who will make decisions about you if you aren’t capable of doing this yourself (due to an accident or illness)? This is a legally binding document, and can prevent family squabbles later on.
A Will: it’s a simple process to get a will drawn up through your solicitor or the Public Trust. Even if you believe you have few assets, having an up-to-date will can speed up payments for the funeral, release of property, and so on.
Funeral or Memorial: providing family with details about your wishes can help them navigate a very difficult time when they are overwhelmed with grief. Would you like to be buried or cremated, in a casket or a shroud? Are there people you would like to speak at your funeral or memorial? What special songs or readings would you like included in the ceremony? Do you even want a ceremony?
Recently, I prepared the outline of my own funeral, and shared this with my sons, both in their early 20s. It includes the tracks that I’d like played (complete with the YouTube links), and instructions about what to do with my body. My kids are millennials so maybe I’ll start a Pinterest board too, the modern equivalent of the little notebook in the bedroom dresser. I hope they won’t need any of it for a long, long time.
But best to be prepared.