Homework: Prepare to die, writing your own obituary

Duane Dailey

“I am getting ready to die.” That attention getting first line led to a vital message from a wise man I know. It came via Facebook just when I most need to heed his advice.

Mel West is a somewhat retired Methodist Minister. You might not find a more active and engaged man in all of Columbia. He attends what I call the old folks’ Sunday school. It’s The Forum at Unitarian Church. We hear an authority on a topic and then discuss.

In his epistle, West said he didn’t know it was so much work to get ready to die. If done right.

My brother and I are sorting the estate left by our mother who died two Sundays ago. (The big burden befalls my brother, still on the family farm.) My Mom, a librarian, was orderly and organized, but left a lot of stuff.

Rev. West says as a Pastor he’s seen lots of mistakes by people leaving messes for their family.

He and his wife are organizing their things. They have an easy-to-find metal box with the read-me-first items. The box contains keys to their lock boxes.

I know two friends who are into “downsizing.” They are ridding the unneeded and unnecessary. Their homes begin to look austere. That’s good.

Rev. West says to mark clearly who is to get what things. Make lists. Better yet, give away now.

Oh, my. This is beginning to get personal. I have so many meaningful things; plus, books I’ve read and treasure. To my family, maybe not so much. In fact, my younger daughter had the audacity to say: “When you are gone, we’ll put a dumpster by the front door.” Oh, me!

Most of my books came from local library sales. I better haul them back to the University and Columbia libraries.

Rev. West says: “Thin down your memoir items: photos, letters, articles, etc.” Oh, I can’t do that. Photos and articles?

But, I understand that no one has ever seen a U-Haul trailer on the back of a hearse headed to the cemetery.

One of West’s best suggestions is to write your obituary, now. That hit home. My brother called to say: You must write Mom’s obituary.

“I told him, I can’t do that.” His response: “You’re the writer.”

I did it, using my own advice: “Put your butt in a chair in front of the keyboard and start typing.” That finally worked about 2:30 a.m.

I found it’s hard to write through tearful eyes.

Rev. West has good info on getting financial files in order. Throw away the old stuff. Your heirs won’t need 30 years of tax records. IRS needs only three years of records, I’d just learned.

Write down the details you desire for your funeral. You can specify your favorite songs and texts. Then, there’s your body. What’s to be done with it? Spell out details: To medical science, cremated or buried? Tend to details now.

Then there’s the will. Tell who is to get what. Rev. West suggests remembering the “least of these.”

That is one I have started on. A memorial fund was set up with MU Development to support travel for Ag writing students. My Mom supported that, as she was there at my “retirement.”

Now, I really like his idea for not making this a dreary list. He says write letters to those who are significant to you. “Tell them how much they mean to you.” At some point it too late for you and for the ones who deserve your praise. Do it now.

I recently received such a letter, unexpected and uplifting. A letter may be the best of your heritage.

Rev. West ends his list wisely. “Relax spiritually, emotionally, physically and enjoy those minutes, hours, days, months, or years you have left.”

Tell what you would add to the end to duanedailey7@gmail.com or 511 W. Worley, Columbia, Mo., 65203. Ya never know.