An Open Letter: Preparing for Death

WORDS BY: LIZZY SUNSHINE
PHOTOS BY: ELIZABETH ORTIZ

“Instructions to whom it may concern...that is…if I die:” A pleather skirt with laces on the side hang next to a shimmery bodysuit in my closet, and my bestie number two has fancy sparkle pants hanging in her closet. Each item still has price tags because the plan was to be decked out for New Year’s Eve at some poshy event, not in the hospital next to a breathing machine. So how did this happen, why “WE?” The three musketeers were now two.

A horrible shock of death came upon our cherished sister-friend without instructions and without closure. We were only told by the doctor that it was up to us to prepare the family. Her brothers and sisters were on their way by plane, but time was running out and our best friend who had tags on her new shiny black jacket hanging up in her closet was never going to be worn. She was 90 to 100 percent away from dying. Her organs were shutting down due to Viral Cardiomyopathy which means enlarged, or broken heart with a virus and when someone gets that, it is hard coming back.

Young people usually do not have thoughts about dying anytime soon, but the cliche-fact is there are no guarantees. And incase it does happen, it might be nice to have some guidelines for friends and family that are left behind: safety deposits, valuables, money under the mattress, burial plans and social media sites. These are things to consider. What about animals with allergies that need special medicine? Our friend had no wishes except she wanted to be cremated.

Basics of dying:  According to Silvia Herrera—a funeral arranger at Stricklin Snively in Long Beach— older people prepare and plan years in advance before they die, but problems occur when a young person dies suddenly and a family is faced with financial hardship. “People don’t talk about it beforehand and when they get [to the funeral home], tears run down their face as they struggle to pay for it.”

There are some key people involved in the death process like a health care directive, who works alongside patients in the hospital to help them decide who should make important decisions. For instance, my friend put me down on the list as an alternative placeholder so I could decide health wise what should be done on her behalf. After the body leaves the hospital, a funeral arranger is needed to oversee the burial, cremation, ceremony and flowers. This person’s function is like a wedding coordinator.

How to prepare:  It is better to pre-plan with a funeral manager who works with the living to set up arrangements and ceremony. This person is similar to a funeral arranger. The advantage of doing this beforehand makes it crystal clear for the people left behind.

“It gives you options to make plans for the kind of ceremony you would like to have,” said Eve Garcia, who preplans for a living in Long Beach. “Older folks past 70 think of these things, but younger people should too.”  

This process cuts out the middleman and becomes a lot less expensive. One can expect to pay three thousand for urn, ashes and a small gathering. Tag on the viewing and celebration, it is another thousand plus.          

Order of operation: If I could go back and ask my friend what she wanted to do about her kids, about her mean ex husband and about all her items in the house that were going in a box, I would have some sort of closure and the mean and ugly coming out of everyone would of been cut to a minimum.

Herrera said people get awful and nasty over belongings. So I believe by putting together a simple letter of who gets what can be helpful to those left behind.

Statement of blessing: If my friend would have said it was OK that her kids stayed with her ex husband, there would be a sense of peace. It would have been nice to know who could come clean out her house, who could remain in her children’s lives and who could attend the funeral. These things matter to the people she left behind. For instance, one lady showed up to my house because another friend told her she was not welcomed at the funeral.

Mindset:  The advice about watching one’s tongue and making it a practice each and everyday holds truth, especially as best friends want to tell everything like my best friend told me; she told me about her children, ex husband, and family that were coming in from the East Coast. Her deepest confessions left me with a feeling of abandonment because it involved her kids. “I’m tired of raising these brats,” she said. “I’m done!” And by looking at her face, she meant it! She also mentioned she did not trust her brother, the person handling all of her previous inheritance. “Punch in the face,”  she said when she was bothered.

My bestie had a troubled teen that would run away often for three days at at a time without checking in.

Her heart was broken, which is the meaning of Viral Cardiomyopathy.

Not saying that this was the cause, but it did not help either. And as I rant about how much she hated her ex husband and how much she was against having her three kids stay with him, I have to ask for forgiveness. I only share to bring the scenario into perspective. My friend was amazing, funny as hell, but at this moment, I am not shining light on her best qualities.

Her death was hard on me because those kids were forced to put their mom’s whole house in a box and go live with their hateful dad. Of course they were able to chose what would go with them like the big fluffy unicorn that the 10-year-old wanted to take. She is too young to understand. They had only two weeks to decide what was of value and because of this, they took vengeance on me for trying to help the family pack up pictures.

Cyber presence: There is actually such thing as online death planning for immortal cyber living; remarkable. My friend was not much of a computer wiz, but  her family was able to put together a Facebook legacy contact. Twitter, Linkedin, Snapchat and Tumblr will allow another person to shut down the account with proof of a death certificate. For me, the trickiest problem was not being able to get into my friends phone without a passcode.

As I sit here and think about my best friend, I realize I have some writing to do for the loved ones in my life. A little preparation can go a long way for those left behind in planning the funeral. According to Herrea, lawyers are not always affordable so the next best thing is finding a paralegal to sit down and work out these concerns on paper.