Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Preparing for death (part two)

Aging Gracefully (Or Not): Preparing for death (part two)

Natalie Gelman

The discussions about preparing to die prompted me to come home and look at my will. When I went to get it out of my safe, it was not there. Eventually I surmised that I had accidentally disposed of it in the process of downsizing when we moved to California a year earlier. I went to an attorney and prepared a new one.

I was aware that this was something I was experiencing differently than I had when I did the original 20 years earlier. The content was the same, but the sense was that it was no longer something that would be invoked in the far future. I did not feel an urgency, but the purpose of having it felt more necessary and valuable than it had years earlier.

Now that I am older and talking to more people my age or older, I am aware of the problems that occur for those who do not have the documentation in place. For me, it was no longer something just to think about.

I did a will and an advanced directive. I also informed my offspring about the arrangements and told them where to find the documents.

There are people I have come upon who exemplify interesting aspects of making these kinds of arrangements in our lives.

One man had a multitude of issues with two of his four children. One of his sons he had not seen since the boy was 17. He had moved to another state and discontinued contact with the family except for one sibling. He suspected that one of his daughters was stealing from him. She frequently asked for loans and offered to clean his house as a gesture of appreciation. After a couple of years, he began to notice items missing in the basement where he stored many valuable items from his parents and grandparents. It took him a while to realize the amount missing was increasing. He asked his daughter about her involvement with the loss and she denied knowing anything. He told her to stop the housecleaning. Nothing more disappeared. He asked her to repay a balance of the loan which had been very significant and she did not do so. She stopped talking to him.

He made the decision to rewrite his will and to exclude these two children from receiving anything. His attorney advised him to say that specifically in his will so that there could not be an assertion about his failure to remember these offspring.

He initially felt awkward about making this decision, and then decided he had acted in a very authentic way. It felt right for him and he understood that others might have behaved more traditionally.

I talked to a woman in her 70s who had made arrangements ahead of time for her funeral and burial. She met with a person at a mortuary, discussed all options, including cremation, and decided which plan worked best for her. All of the details were chosen: casket, flowers, burial site, etc. She paid for it because she did not want that financial stress on her survivors.

It was interesting to note the difference between those who accepted the reality of death and the fact that the older we are, the closer we are to it. These people put order to what can be an overwhelming and arduous experience for survivors. And with it, these elderly people achieve a sense of calm that comes with acceptance.

Everyone I spoke to acknowledged they were getting closer to dying. There appeared to be a more grounded attitude with those who had taken the actions I have mentioned. Those who had done nothing seemed more anxious, worried and scared about their deaths.

Natalie Gelman has kicked off a series of speaking engagements covering a range of topics. She'll be speaking from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through October 27 at the Home of Truth, 1300 Grand Street; a full schedule of topics is available on her website.

Natalie Gelman can be contacted at Her website is