The conversations that we have on my podcast and in my writing all have to do with collision points between work and life. One of the continuing themes is the collision point that is the literal end of work. This takes many forms, it’s the end of the traditional career, the rethinking of what a job is or possibly even getting fired or laid off. On the life side of my conversations, there’s pretty much only one end. There’s no refreshing your life resume and applying to different positions after your let go from living. When you’re done with life, you’re done.
Two things got me thinking about the end of life. The first was actually rather enjoyable, I watched Pixar’s Coco. It’s a classic hero’s journey story like all Pixar movies only this one takes place in the afterlife. The second was a conversation I had with a sibling about an elderly family member who refuses to get their will taken care of.
These were two dynamically opposed influences tackling the same subject. The movie embraced death as a part of life. There was honor and reverence for the dead. Dying was seen as an inevitable and acceptable part of life. On the other side of it was the family member who refuses to get her will written, let’s call her Ms senior. In the case of Ms. Senior, prepping for her eventual death is a concept so emotionally painful and anxiety-inducing that the the preferred response is to ignore it completely even after the urging of a significant number of her family and friends. Although very much in the minority, especially considering her age and what she’s been through in her life, Ms Senior is not alone. I’ve heard this story many times, of elderly family members who refuse to accept their mortality and of the struggles of the remaining family members managing the remains of the estate. I always hear someone involved vent “they thought they were going to live forever”.
As I reflected further I realized that there are some universal elements to the end of life that play into both the positive and the negative response to it. Death is scary, it is an end, and the reality of it should be addressed.
The end of life is usually, but not always, filled with pain. It’s also a huge unknown. An Atheist would argue that this is the primary reason why religion still exists today. It’s understandable that it’s difficult to wrap your head around this concept that you exist as a human being with thoughts and emotions and one day you will exist no more. An afterlife filled with a second chance or a paradise makes the concept of the end of life much more palatable.
Like anything that is based in fear, we can embrace the challenge (bucket list linq) and deal with it by doing something like preparing in a positive way by completing our bucket list or we can hide from it. Ms. Senior has chosen to hide from it. The thing that I don’t believe Ms Senior understands is that there are good parts to thinking about mortality
It helps ground our current reality. We can be workaholics, involved in caustic relationships and/or all manner of other life traps. When you think about your mortality simply asking the question “What’s it all for?” can be part of the thing that pulls you out of bad situations
Death is an end that should be prepared for!
Death is an end but it’s also a goal. Admittedly death is an unavoidable one, but it’s definitely an endpoint to a journey which is why it is a goal. Like all goals, how do you want to get there is as important as getting there. Thinking about death will help you reflect on how you want to live your life. An old trick used by self-help gurus is to have people write their own obituary. Right now the positives on mine would include Salesman, entrepreneur, government servant, teacher, blogger, author (hopefully), father, husband, friend, philosopher, scholar. Some would say I’ve lived a full life already, I personally look at that list and it seems empty to me.
End-of-life planning is practical if you care remotely about what happens after you’re gone. Since most people like to leave some kind of mark, even if that mark is a last little bit of chaos, it still requires some sort of planning. Thankfully most people want to exit with their affairs in order. This means a will and estate planning. If there is a big estate then that it can go on to continue the work of the person who built it. Since most of us don’t have billions in a trust fund to further our philosophical goals, estate planning inclusive of preparing a last will and testament really means just taking care of your family and supporting one or two of your favorite causes after you’re gone. Remember, If you don’t have one, then the government makes one up for you according to the laws that are on the books. It’s hard to say that you took care of your family in the difficult period of your end of life when you left your affairs up to a state bureaucracy. The way I see it is that if you’re the kind of person who cleans your house, folds your laundry and pays your bills on time, then planning for your end should be no different emotionally.
Thinking about the end of life, let alone dealing with it, as I said, can be difficult. Yet the end of life is a little bit like the rest of life. It has positives and negatives. When I started this article I really thought it was going to go on for a long time because there are so many complex issues related to death and dying. For my writing this one is unexpectedly short. In a bit of gallows humor I hope my life doesn’t follow the same trajectory as this particular composition. Even if it does I know one thing. I intend to use my end of life as a way to propel me forward as opposed to something that holds me back in fear. I am goal oriented. I love striving for a prize at the end of a big effort. I’m going to try and make my end of life a prize not just for me but for everybody around me as well.
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