Because, as we looked at in the last post, the veil of thoughts and emotions we have about aging is layered and entangled with several other veils like health, finances, and attractiveness, this week in class we continued our lively discussion.
A few themes arose:
Aging is easier if we’re prepared for it in practical ways, to whatever degree we’re able. But just like disaster preparedness, even though we know we should do it doesn’t mean we do. If we cultivate awareness of the threads we follow when the topic comes up we might find out what’s keeping us from following through on our intention with wise effort.
If fear arises, we might stick our fingers in our ears and sing la-la-la until the uncomfortable feeling goes away. But all we are doing is compounding the heavy burden of it, carrying the weight of it around on our shoulders for yet another day. Disasters we prepare for might happen, but aging and/or death will happen. Doing what we can to ease the way for ourselves and our designated survivors will make a big difference in how it all plays out.
Yet those tasks fall to the bottom of our to-do list, or off the list altogether. Instead, we busy ourselves with things that don’t matter. I, for example, will reorganize a drawer just for fun. It’s a satisfying thing to do, sure, but does it need to be done? Probably not. (Especially since I reorganized it a few years back the Marie Kondo way and it has never gotten messy again. I mean it’s a miracle! But I digress.)
Some of the things we think we have to do may not be necessary. And wouldn’t that be a load off to realize? But we won’t realize it if we don’t look at it. Notice what’s on your to-do list that doesn’t need to be there at all. That makes room for the necessary tasks to get done ASAP. If you think you have no time, put it on the calendar: Tues 3 PM Research making a will. (Or whatever is most pressing but long avoided.) Make a series of 15 minute dates as needed to get it done.
High on the list of what needs to be done is making sure that your loved ones’ grief over your death will not be compounded by unnecessary worry, work, and confusion. A friend of mine spent painful months trying to unravel the mystery of his deceased mother’s finances. She hadn’t left a clue! He could have been taking care of himself in his grief and engaging in heartfelt conversations with others. But, because of his mother’s discomfort in discussing the subject, he was stuck in a paperwork purgatory. Have ‘the conversation’! It’s never too soon. One student said her mother simply said, “Everything you need to know is in that drawer.” Wow! If that drawer truly does contain all the necessary information, that’s certainly a succinct and loving way to transmit what’s needed.. That drawer, binder, flash drive, or online account might include:
- Living trust
- Medical directive
- Power of attorney
- Life insurance policy
- Birth certificate
- Marriage license
- Bank and credit card accounts
- Loan documents
- Automobile titles
- Property deeds
- Copies of keys to automobiles, safe deposit boxes, etc.
- Account and device passwords
- Contact info of family, friends, services
- Accounts on autopay
- Any plans (i.e. prepaid funeral or burial plots) or any specific wishes (burial, cremation, etc.) If not, then state that. Survivors want to know they are fulfilling the wishes of their loved one.
I love the drawer idea! It activates my inner Marie Kondo. I can go about the task of gathering and updating info with the same organizing mindset. Hmm, what color file folders will I use?
If you are the ‘next of kin’ to someone, be sure you find out what you need to know. If you are told it’s ‘in the drawer’, maybe request a walk through to make sure that everything is up to date and complete to avoid unfortunate surprises.
Our resistance to these kinds of discussions comes from our discomfort with the nature of impermanence. As we get more in touch with the cycles of change in nature, we can become more comfortable with understanding that death is part of the ongoing ever-changing nature of being. So let’s be with it with awareness and compassion, instead of turning away.
Because my parents very thoughtfully set up a living trust, my brother and I had an easy time coping with the finances after my father died. We were able to savor our time together and grew closer in the process. But students told sad stories of siblings falling out over misunderstandings of their deceased parents’ wishes. Things fall apart, but family bonds don’t have to.
Dementia was a topic in our discussion because we all know people who are losing memories and some of us are experiencing it ourselves. Early onset dementia can start as young as thirty. The class conversation would have been just about coping with our fears, but we learned more about communicating with people with dementia because one of my students, Oran Aviv, works with people with dementia and teaches their families and caregivers how to make it easier to meet their needs and enjoy time together. Find out more on her blog.
How is losing memory different from letting go of veils?
Once I was on a hike with a beloved relative with dementia and every few moments she would look around and say “What a beautiful day!” Indeed it was, and I appreciated her reminders to pause and use my senses to be fully present! But alternately, she worried about her dog back home, and repeated her concerns every few minutes, each time visibly caught up in a painful knot of emotion. With dementia, veils can thin but entanglement in knots in a veil can be even more debilitating and confusing.
Our meditation practice helps us to disentangle the knots of our various veils of thought and emotion. We aren’t tossing out cherished memories, but if they begin to fade, we are less likely to be distressed or frustrated. After all, we have this moment of being alive that we can greet with loving awareness, whatever is arising. Our sense of what life is all about isn’t vested so heavily in the veils of memories or ideas of ourselves as solid identities. We can enjoy the veils, play with them, wear them lightly, and when they lift, let them go.
In all these areas: memory loss, family communication, and procrastination; we benefit by pausing, holding ourselves and all that’s arising with compassion, and cultivating clarity. Our avoidance of dealing with challenging subjects entangles us more tightly, blinding us, and so we miss out on noticing it really is a beautiful day.
Thank you for hanging in there reading what can feel like a too difficult a subject. You get a gold star!! Use it in whatever way you want to add sweetness to your day.