by: Rev. Dr. Ralph T. Bowling, Jr., retired member of the South Carolina Annual Conference, United Methodist Church
I have a friend who is a Baptist pastor in West Virginia. He is quite a character. However, he is one of the best pulpiteers I have ever listened to. He was preaching at a church in Greenville, SC, one night and I went to listen to him. He was preaching on the subject of dying and death. He said, “You know if they would tell me what town I was going to die in, I would never go to that town. I would not even get close to that Zip Code.” He went on to say, “I am not afraid to die; I just do not want to be there when it takes place.”
One day when I was 9 years old my Dad’s oldest brother, Herbert, was visiting with us. It was a Saturday morning and he was reading the obituaries in the newspaper as he did every morning when he came to visit us. He looked at me and said, “Ralph, Jr., have you ever noticed how people seem to die in alphabetical order?” I thought to myself my name starts with “B.” I did say I was 9 years old, did I not? I thought: my name must be coming up on the list pretty quickly. I thought I better get ready quick.
Yes, as my mother used to say, “It is appointed unto mankind … once to be born and once to die.” She would then look at me and say also, “And we have absolutely no control over either of those events.” She was stating a certain truth. We absolutely have no control over when or where we were born, nor did we get to choose our parents. We have no control over when or where we will die. It is not something we like to think about.
No one wants to deal with their own mortality, but as seniors we are closer to it than we ever have been. There are things we need to deal with. If we put them off we shall leave our children with complicated tasks to carry out without direction as to our wants and wishes to guide them.
Every senior, no matter whether they have great wealth or just the normal things of middle class people, even those who think they live in poverty, need to have a will that spells out who gets what of the things you live and enjoy each day. There will be hurt feelings and someone will say to the others, “You got more than I did.” Think about just what it would be like if you do not leave a will. It will be utter chaos in which everyone gets their feelings hurt.
You need to now appoint the most level headed child (family member or friend) you have as the executor of the estate. If this is not done, the entire matter of settling your estate will be handled by the courts and you have never seen the mess that it can create. Families are already upset when you go on to the great beyond and not to have an executor just creates a master plan for disaster. This executor needs to know where all bank and savings accounts are so that they might be accessed to help in the making of payments to credit card accounts and the unpaid bills that you will leave. The executor needs to know where all property records are and in what county they are filed and where all copies of insurance policies are filed in your home. This makes it much easier to deal with the cost of burial.
A senior who is kind and loving to his or her family will have recorded a funeral plan with the mortuary that you wish to handle your service. These plans should include who you wish to conduct the service of your burial. It is also very informative to the family to know who you would like to be the pallbearers, type of music, etc. This takes great pressure off the family and makes it less competitive among them to have the people they wish to serve involved. Your wishes will be known.
It is not unthought-of for you to even write the obituary that you wish to appear in the news media. This also should be filed with the mortuary. It might sound silly, but I have seen many families get in fights over just such a thing. By doing all these things yourself while you are of sound mind and of communicative spirits is a welcome relief to your family who will be in a state of mourning when you die.
I know you do not plan to be on the next bus load going to Heaven. But none of us should put these things off – we are not in control of the time nor place where this human life will end.