Preparing to Die (pt. 1): My Death Plan

I want to preface this by saying that I’m not about to die. Unless I am. I’m certainly going to die and have no way of knowing when. This post shouldn’t scare folks any more than facing all our mortality does… and if it scares you, I encourage you to keep reading. This is about making a death plan!

As some friends know, I’m a member of the Order of the Good Death (or “Deathling”). It coalesced at an important time in my life, right around when my mother died and it was made up of other people asking the same questions I was asking — what’s a good death look like? What about grief? What does accepting that my mortality rate is 100% look like? How can I get past reasonable and unreasonable fears? Does being death-positive mean I can’t mourn for years? (nope! loss absolutely sucks and it’s ok to grieve—the un-positive thing is forcing people to act “normal” after a few months or a year.)

It’s a decentralized community, not located in any particular place or website, but in death salons, in twitter conversations, in conversations with friends (and coworkers) who read some of the same books and watch the same videos and ask the same questions… and it influences my own reading and reflective practice. It’s… folks. People. People who choose to engage with their mortality and that of those they love. This year is the Year of Action, where we take concrete steps for ourselves and society.

(Living) Wills vs. Death Plans

I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford a will and living will and disciplined enough to have them. That’s not what I’m writing about today, though (I think you should do your best to get a living will if you have even a little money, forms which you get notarized are better than nothing and may help guide your family). My mom had one, as well as a death plan and an entire order of service for her funeral. She was an absolute champ about dying. Her living will had extra guidance related to palliative care and death, which may make sense if you are going to die of a known condition.

What I’m writing about is what Order of the Good Death founder, Caitlin Doughty (of Undertaking LA, several books, and Ask a Mortician ) talked about in her 2018-01-05 video Making your DEATH PLAN!

This is a plan for what your loved ones should do now that you’re dead. It may involve prepurchased services (not generally a good idea, mom had them), thorough directives, and/or more general desires. It’s a resource to make the work of whoever will be burying you a little bit easier, to let them know for sure what you would’ve wanted.

It’s also not something you can make people do because, well, you’re dead. It’s something to talk to them about now, to explain why you want it this way. It’s also something you may want to make others in your life aware of, so they know what’s going on when it happens. I sent mine to my sister and to my mother-in-law because I want everyone on the same page. I talked about it with my husband, who’s my next of kin. And that’s about what I can do.

I’m sharing a semi-redacted version of my own death plan below, to give you an idea of where it is right now. Writing these made both of us cry a bit. That was ok. It sometimes happens when you face your mortality. I note it as a warning. This is an emotional thing to do and you should prepare yourself going in (but not put it off forever).

My Death Plan

Of note: I’m an organ donor, please answer affirmative if I don’t have my ID on me or they check.

I would like

My body to be buried naturally, somewhere it can decompose. I am ok with being held around if it takes a little bit to arrange that, but sooner in the ground is better.

Breaking that down:

  • Initial care of my body: I would prefer to be kept at home with basic ice packs, high a/c, etc., if conditions are favorable, though not in the summer. If I have a sewing room and it works, put me there, that would be aces. Don’t put me in the bedroom if I predecease my husband or anywhere that freaks him out. Refrigeration in a mortuary/morgue is ok. NO EMBALMING.
  • If body mutilated: Don’t keep me at home; cremating ok if necessary. NO EMBALMING.
  • Buried in: Long-term, I’m working on a shroud. If it’s not done or is broken or I can’t wear it, I’d like it/its components to be buried with me. Woven casket, cardboard box, something that decays fast is fine if people don’t like just the shroud.
  • Memorial service: I like the idea of a simple graveside service. I am ok with a service elsewhere.
  • Flowers: No. Buy some flowers for you to remember me by or plant some flowers or give $10 (20/50/whatever) to someone who needs it.
  • Marker: I am ok with it if people would like it to find me. I don’t need to know you’ll have one, but I know family can find it distressing not to know where a person is. If you do one, make it as small as reasonable. But please include full name & dates. If any inscription: “Make something beautiful before you are dead.” DEATHS HEADS AND OUROBOROSES ARE COOL KNOCK YOURSELVES OUT WITH THAT. It’s not that I need this, but if you do it I want an awesome one.
  • Buried with my spouse: Same cemetery ideal, double plot not necessary.

If I die elsewhere in the US

I am ok being naturally buried [lists of regions, exceptions, pejoratives, and other personal notes about locations]. If I don’t like the state or people want me closer, cremate* me.

If I die outside the US

Cremate1 my remains, rather than embalm me, and bring me home.

…thus endeth the death plan. I didn’t sign it or anything, just passed it around. I’m going to work on a kind of personal LOCKSS and heck, now they can get a decent version from my blog (if you’re reading this because I’m dead, I’m sorry about abridging the states bit but you should know how I feel about them)!

Things I still definitely need to do

  1. Call around to the various natural burial options in Pennsylvania. Record that contact info. Ask about the cost of being buried at each (right now, at least). Ask about the rules they have for natural burials.
  2. grits teeth Get recommendations and actually talk to local undertakers, I guess (I did not have great experiences with my mom’s). Ask about natural burial and cremation.
  3. Write guidance on my digital estate. Put the passwords for things in a safe location my husband and my sister (both of whom I trust entirely) know about. I may share an edited form of that guidance here.

Writing Your Death Plan

(and thinking about your mortality)

If you’re looking for more resources to help you think through your end of life, I really recommend going through the Order’s website. Scrolling down the front page in early 2018 gets you an excellent set of resources about home funerals, natural burials, green death tech, the death positive movement, movies, books, etc. They have a page set aside for end of life and planning your own (or someone else’s) funeral, which I really recommend. I have more to do on this, including deciding how much I absolutely should do now (ugh, passwords) and how much I can wait on (I don’t care about my outfit).

I absolutely will die. And I am absolutely not ready yet.

For now, the journey continues.

  1. Defining cremate! If it’s available, I’d rather have “water cremation” aka alkaline hydrolosis than traditional cremation, but am ok with fire cremation. Bury my cremains somewhere in the ground. It would be nice to plant a tree or something growing by them (though I know cremains cannot nourish trees). ↩︎