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Death, Dignity and Handbags

By: Attorney Katherine S. Breckenridge, Esq.

Published November 17, 2014

Probate & Administration

Have you seen that post on social media of an older adult eating at a restaurant, and his companion is a photo of his deceased wife? I would imagine that the poignancy of that image softens even the most stoic amongst us, and prompts one to gather his or her loved ones close.

I think about death each and every day. There was a time that it was merely a fleeting concept. Now, I wrestle with the imminence of it, how to best plan for it, how to care for others who face it, and what it will look like when my time arrives.

The Bible tells us in 2 Peter 3:8 that our time on this earth is fleeting in comparison to time eternal. ” . . . that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (KJV) Believing this, have you ever felt like you are on the outside looking in? Like you are watching behaviors that give you cause to pause? Perhaps not reflecting in a judgmental fashion, but in the ability to discern the existence of a false reality.

Why does is so often seem that we get caught up in the mundane? For example, seeing a well-known actor in a commercial for a Lincoln, espousing all that is a wonderment of such a fine machine. Now, having fine things can be enjoyable; however, is that icon one of such importance that it correlates with one’s quality of life? What about political commercials? Where’s the character in stacking up scores against an opponent instead of a one hundred percent focus on what makes a person qualified for a job and how one is going to make this a better place for now, for the future?

The bombardment of status measurements seems unattainable and at best unsustainable. And, the character assassinations, even if truths may be told, would seem better substituted with plans of action.

The above seem superfluous in comparison to recognizing the Blessing of being present, of aging with dignity, of celebrating those things in life that come without price tags.

When I view death through the eyes of my Faith, I have held dear the concept of Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (KJV) I have clung to the belief that to live is good, but to be in His Presence would be better yet.

Admittedly, there are times when my human side gets in the way. I like it here. I cannot imagine not being present with my husband and children. As I cling to the things of this realm, it is obvious to me that my spiritual walk is a work-in-progress.

I like to joke that I am not the fun invitee at a gathering, as I talk about death and planning for death almost without end – no pun intended.

When I view death through my practice as an estate planning attorney, it is not at all that I set aside my Faith, but that I let it aid me as I view the planning for a quality of life, the death that follows to be somewhat corralled and memorialized in writing.

Our society has plans of action for so many scenarios – for health care, for infrastructure, for safety. We have a plan for life, albeit in segments, such as education, career goals, and family matters. Planning ahead for the end-of-life is not an easy subject matter; however, you are important; it is important.

The subject of death can be so overwhelming, even more so are often the faculties and mobilities that seem to begin slipping away before we have even blinked. And, we try to hang on to a modicum of dignity.

Priceless are those individuals who we can trust with our lives, who aid us in maintaining our dignity. It is a gift if we know even one.

As an estate planning attorney, I witness individuals struggling to identify who they trust enough to name as an executor, a trustee, or an agent. Many older adults have a grown child they can trust, and have appointed that child in a fiduciary role.

Forget the showmanship and the allure of fancy car commercials, the bitterness and disgust over the non-civil discourse of political campaigns. As I like to say, “you can’t take it with you.”

There are estate planning documents like a power of attorney, an advance medical directive, and a revocable trust that often give a person the authority to provide and protect for another. It is a very precious process when that trust is present and a person or a family sets aside the trappings of all the externals and comes alongside a person in need, frequently an older adult, and says, “here I am, you matter to me.”

How does one who has offered such hope, or who is in need of such care, cope with a subject matter than can be so weighty? Years ago, dear friends lost their mother, a person of whom I had become so fond. My friends gave me a beautiful handbag from their mother’s collection. I treasured that handbag so much so that for at least six years I kept it in its protective bag. Recently, I had an event to attend, and I used the handbag. Well, for one who had not purchased a new handbag in the last fifteen years (one only needs just one that works . . . not so fast), I had this little delight, that perhaps many of you have discovered long ago. Perhaps the joy that I found in that handbag, as well as the vintage ones that I now have on my “to-purchase” list, are a bit of a coping mechanism.

To me, they are a little bit of finery, of flare. I encourage you to enjoy the incredible gifts that are of this world. However, the same way that you plan for the fun events in your life, put in place an end-game . . . because, I believe that is only the BEGINNING!

So, filter out the elements that do not matter, the ones that rob you of your time, purpose, and creativity; open up your handbag, stuff all the mundane into a compartment. Place that handbag on your arm, set your sights on loved ones, put plans in place, and treasure what matters!