February is American Heart Month. We are enveloped in the color red and surrounded by manufactured items symbolic of love. Expressions of appreciation for our cherished life companions are communicated through many of these stereotypical means.
But have you thought outside of the heart-shaped candy box? Might there be an especially meaningful and eternal way to declare your love for someone? In the context of contemplating end-of-life arrangements, thoughts turn to ideas for providing measures of support for loved ones who will need bolstering and a sense of connection at the time of one’s death.
Sometimes such connections are established through recognition of material goods imbued with lifetime significance. As a guest blogger for the AARP blog, Joan Marams Dim recounted her experience of mindfully observing residual items from her husband’s life. Certain features of these ordinary belongings revealed surprising characteristics of this man, Stuart, with whom she had lived for fifty-one years. His death had occurred after a decade of dealing with cancer.
In the midst of rummaging through assorted leftovers, Joan discovered unexpected multiples of toiletries and office supplies, along with articles of clothing that reminded her of circumstances associated with them. Probably the most stunning revelation was a computer message the preeminent organizer in the family had left for her.
Stuart had covertly bestowed upon his wife a detailed schedule for household management, thereby enabling her to sustain a routine of attending to specific tasks. Among the messages were: “Please water the blueberry bushes”…”Please pick the tomatoes”… “Time to turn the mattress and change the water filter in the refrigerator. Thanks.” A few days before quarterly taxes were to be mailed, Joan was reminded by her absent husband to mail them; the forms had already been filled out, and the signed checks were ready to be placed in the stamped envelopes.
Some readers might interpret this type of terminal behavior as obsessive. But let’s look at the other side of the coin. Here was a man whose characteristic attention to detail prompted him to exhibit a characteristic form of support for his wife. It was his way of preparing for death. It was his way of being by his wife’s side afterwards.
So what might be your own style for offering preemptive practical support for family members? Consider digging through your piles of photos to extract the ones you would choose for an obituary notice, an online memorial site, or a display at a commemorative event. Compile a list of biographical data, a process that could potentially compound the stress of grieving folks upon whose shoulders the task would otherwise fall. Can you imagine the utter chaos of recovering computer files if passwords were not readily available? Or what if household paperwork was scattered and inaccessible? Neglect could easily set the stage for a nightmare scenario.
Of course, there is so much beyond the basics that a wise and loving planner could offer. It might be in the form of a list of household or general management tasks that will have to be addressed upon death, allowing for efficient delegation of them to individuals who want to be involved. Or it might be a suggested list of bereavement resources, enabling awareness and acquisition when the paralysis of sorrow feels overwhelming.
But whatever type of assistance you choose to provide ahead of time, do it your way. Think of Stuart, and do it in a manner that will connect your persona to beloved family members. Let them feel the embrace of your helping hands reaching out to them from heaven.
AARP BLOG: "Losing A Partner – and Finding It Hard to Let Go"