WE ARE ONE

Lasha Morningstar

February 4, 2013

It's a grismal way to start the day. But it must be done. Each and every morning I go through the newspaper obituaries searching for any priests or nuns who might have died. Should one be on their way to heaven, a story might be done based on their religious life.

I cannot help but scan the other write-ups. Many are lush with pride and affection, listing relatives, their many accomplishments, how much they are loved and how their life was well lived.

Others tell a different story. A baby died within days of their birth. A youth savaged by the street. A tormented soul who ends their desolate existence. Lives cut short by illness, a tragic accident, an act of fate.

For most of us, it never crosses our mind as to what will be in that newspaper write-up after we die. Indeed, some specify they want no write-up at all.

Writing your own obituary and will enables you to tell your own story and to prevent bitter battles over the material scraps of your existence.

Writing your own obituary and will enables you to tell your own story and to prevent bitter battles over the material scraps of your existence.

Those whom editors decide merit a news write-up, are documented from birth to last breath, with as many anecdotes as friends and family can remember laced in between. It's a celebration of their life, not an obituary.

Some deaths go unremarked, ungrieved, uncared for. Mainly these are the homeless, those who die without shelter, their lives obliterated by the ruthlessness of life on the streets. A few are remembered by the agencies who care for those whom society has forgotten and their pictures are tacked up on bulletin boards in chapels.

The ache of such an unmourned life, if one lets it into their heart, is staggering.

To answer this sorrow, the Edmonton Homeless Memorial Statue has been erected at 100th Street and 103A Avenue. Each year, a ceremony is held, memories recalled, tears shed. (On a happier note, the city's latest homeless stats number is 2,174, the figures dropping each year thanks to the 10-year-plan to end homelessness.)

Then there are the unexpected vignettes. One lengthy chronicle caught my eye. The photo was of a beautiful smiling woman. She died too young. But the obituary contained not a drop of bitterness, for she wrote it herself.

The disease that robbed her of expected longevity was stomach cancer, the same cancer that killed her grandfather. She asked those who wanted to remember her in a pragmatic way, if they wished, to donate to a physician doing research on that relatively rare disease.

The rest of the obituary was her recollection of her life. It was a joyous account, filled with memories and gratitude, saying "thank you" to those who enriched her journey, especially as the end drew nigh.

One of her final requests was that those attending the service wear bright colours. What a glorious gift she gave to those left behind, the healing salve of knowing she loved her life, that her regrets, if there were any, were few.

But death, for most of us, is tucked way back in the closet of our mind, right under thank you letters we must remember to write.

Again, most of us do not even have an up-to-date will. Just think of the ruckus that would cause if you died without parcelling out who gets what. What if you have children or dependent adults in your care? Have you made provisions for your pets? What about causes you support?

FIGHTS AND THEFT

If those wishes are not documented, fights, outright theft, family fractures can, and do, occur. It is astounding to watch as relatives swoop in as their long-forgotten relative lies in a coma, they empty bank accounts, load up antiques, wield emotional blackmail so they walk away with prized jewellery and then disappear, never to be heard from again.

Not pleasant. Granted, it is not always that way, but money can do the strangest of things to people. A will drawn up by a trusted lawyer and ethical executor can keep such abuse at bay.

IN CONTROL

So much of life today seems to be out of our control. Economies tank. Businesses fold. Technological advances wipe out professions. Friends and family leave our lives. Society itself seems to be in a constant state of flux.

The one thing we can try to control is what happens when we exit stage left. Have a lawyer draft an up-to-date will with all of your responsibilities and wishes, appoint an executor and sign the will. Fill out an advance directive that gives directions about your future health care. Should you wish to leave a good-bye to the world, write your obit.

That done, let's get on with life.

(Lasha Morningstar lasha@wcr.ab.ca)