“A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you.” — Margaretta Magnusson, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning
He literally died with his boots on, doing what he loved.
Perhaps, if Eddie Garcia could have directed his own death, he would have done it the same way — quick, painless, with no fan fare. Being the quintessential actor and director that he was, he had long been ready and prepared for his final act down to what his family would do with his ashes. I was really impressed with that.
In a 2013 interview with Ces Drilon, he was very matter of fact about death and dying. I suppose it came from having lost two children early in life — one was only 22 and died suddenly in a freak motorcycle accident, while the other was 39 to a heart attack. And then losing his wife to cancer. Being so familiar with death perhaps made him fearless. I can almost imagine him saying, “Well, I’ve outlived everyone. I’m so ready to go.” And he did.
One of my most memorable interviews took place almost twenty years ago with a cancer patient who wasn’t even 40. Marisette had planned everything down to the letter. She showed me charts and tables of how she wanted things to go during her last months when she perhaps would no longer be coherent. She left clear instructions on what to wear, what music would be played, who would do her makeup, what photo to display.
I was I awe of her planning and her courage to face death on. She held a living wake “because I want to see those whom I love and care for and be able to hear what they have to say about me while I still can.” The thought may seem morbid to most, and only the most progressive or pragmatic of thinkers would probably do such. In the end, Marisette got her wish, and left the world and all her loved ones in perfect peace.
The year I turned 50 was significant
because I had outlived my dad who was 49 when he died from a sudden heart attack. When I turned 50, I took the opportunity to sit my daughter down and tell her how I wanted things to go in the event of my passing, or in case of a chronic illness. She was a first year medical student then and had a basic understanding of the terminology used by doctors for end-of-life. I did not include her brother in the discussion because he was only 15 at that time.
I believe that it’s never too early to prepare for one’s passing, and I do not want to burden my children with having to guess what to do when the time comes. You don’t attract death when you talk about it. That’s a myth. If we really care for those whom we love, and will leave behind, the most selfless thing we can do is to prepare everything, to give clear instructions so that when we are gone, all they will focus on is the mourning, and remembering the happy times you once shared.
Here are some of the things I discussed with my daughter when I sat her down five years ago.
In the event of a sudden accident or a terminal illness, it’s very important to talk about symptom control and management in advance. What kind of palliative care would you like? What are your goals of care?
Next, think about where/how you would like to die — in the hospital, at home, do you want all your loved ones with you? Would you like music to play? What kind of music?
Make sure you have prepared your advance directives. You can download these from the web.
How much medical intervention will you want? What are your thoughts about intubation and DNR (Do Not Resuscitate)? Who will make the call within your family? It’s very important, long before it happens, in the event that it will be needed, to give whoever you designate, clear directions on how much medical intervention you want. The medical decision maker needs to fully understand and agree to carry out your wishes and desires regarding your end of life care.
Do you have an estate plan in order and have you discussed this with your children? Is your will up to date?
Do you want to be buried or cremated? Do you have a plan that is ready? Where is it? Who will be your point or lead person in the wake and or funeral or cremation arrangements?
It’s also very important, early on, not to have unfinished business, or bear any grudges as much as possible. You never really know when your number is up. There are five things one needs to say to those dying or to those we leave behind — “I’m sorry for.” “I forgive you. for…” “Please forgive me for…” “Thank you.” and “I love you.” It’s never too early to say these things so that we don’t regret not saying them when we still had the time and the opportunity to do so.
Are there things and dreams you still wish to fulfill? People to see, to write or call, to make amends when possible? Go do them now while you still can. Don’t put it off because no matter how healthy you are at this very moment, tomorrow, well, even the next minute is never guaranteed.
We all pray for a happy and peaceful death. I didn’t appreciate that as much when I was younger, but now I do.
There are many possible ways of exiting this world, and only God knows how long we have here or how our final exit will play out. Preparing for that exit is a choice we can make whether the exit is expected or not. It takes a lot of thought, time and energy to make those plans. It is more prudent to take the time now, while one is still strong, lucid, and able so that your passing will be peaceful and stress free as much as possible for your family and loved ones.
The other night I was with a dear friend who cared for her mother during her mom’s final two years. Her mother was 86 when she passed on. Prior to her mom’s illness she said they were in the mall one day when her mom said, “Ok, I have to go somewhere just wait for me here.” At that time, her mom was 81 years old. “Mom, I cannot let you go off by yourself,” my friend said. “No, I don’t want you to go with me, mako-conscious ako (I will get conscious)…”
After much prodding, her mother finally sighed and relented, “Ok, I’m going to the photo studio to have a new portrait taken for when I have my wake, iyon ang gagamitin ninyo.” My friend reminded her mother that she had done the same thing five years earlier, to which my friend’s mother replied, “Ay, kailangan maganda at updated habang maganda pa ako.” Five years later, the photograph when she was a beautiful and radiant 82 year old was placed beside her urn.
In life, as in death, we do what we can to prepare, and leave the rest to God.
Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org