Planning to leave before saying “goodbye”

Today we signed our newly created Wills. Our original goal was to have them done before Gracelyn turned one. We pushed that back to June and might not have made it by her second birthday, but here we are with signed and notarized documents that detail what we wish to happen in the event of our death(s) — yep, I wrote “in the event of” as if it might not happen. Which reminds me of why so many avoid doing these documents at all (they bring up questions and thoughts that can feel very uncomfortable). I’m grateful they are complete and know that they will help those we leave behind when we die (yep, I’m admitting that I will die one day — a long time from now, but I know I am mortal).

While wills are valuable to almost anyone, parents with “minor” children really have a lot to think about when crafting their final wishes. To me, thinking of Gracelyn’s future without us in it is incredibly painful. Though I look forward to her growing into a mature, interdependent adult (one day a long time from now), I truly treasure this chance to walk on the same earth as my little girl. Her presence is oxygen to my spirit and the joy I feel simply knowing her cannot be contained. I want to be around for her life…for her…for me, and yet, at some point I won’t be here physically.

My mom died when I was 21 — which was almost two decades ago so I’m approaching that point of living longer without her than I did with her. Though I don’t miss her acutely as I did in those first few years following her death, nor do I often consciously think of her absence, I know I wish I could be sharing my daughter with her and my mama-self with her too. I would be grateful if she was still physically present in my life AND my experience with her death has helped me prepare for my own death and better live my life in the gap between today and my final day.

Death has helped me

  • Let go of fears about tomorrow, next week, next year, or “someday.” The days will come and go, but much of what I’m scared to have happen will only ever exist in my mind. And some of it can’t be prepared for ahead of time anyway so fear just wastes the present.
  • Savor life and choose what matters. True, I’m fortunate to have a spouse who can and will work at a good wage, yet we’ve made very intentional choices that make it easy for me to be a full-time mama. The way I know to “stave off death” is to enjoy each present moment to the fullest extent possible.
  • Love now. Love now. Love now. Mainly this means to me that I tell people in the moment that they matter to me, that I love them, that their life blesses mine, that they’ve affected me in a positive way.
  • Build relationships not things. This is one that I get to constantly practice, especially since it’s so counter-cultural. We have no TV (though still more screens than we need) and we spend lots of our family time in intimate contact with each other (reading snuggled up on the couch, tickling and playing chase, rubbing noses and toeses, cooking together, gardening, splashing in puddles, etc.).
  • Talk and share. When my mom was sick I didn’t want to talk about her death for fear that she might think I’d lost hope. She didn’t talk about her death either, so that meant that plenty went unsaid and I ended up with unanswered questions. While I don’t plan to talk with Gracelyn frequently about death or burden her with things that she’s not developmentally ready for, I do take time to write in her journal and otherwise record things that I want her to know for posterity.
  • Nurture our non-physical connection. While I know I’m spirit and Gracelyn is too, I crave physical contact (or evidence of that physical presence like a voice across a telephone line). Though there is fascinating evidence that even our physical selves are intertwined, I want to foster a greater spiritual connection to my daughter. This is important to me so that even when our physical separation comes (the ones that happen now or the “big one” that happens at death), we’ll still be bound together in a real and active way.
  • Be real. I want Gracelyn to know me and I want to know her. Sure there may be things that I feel uncomfortable revealing or may even wish I didn’t know about her, but I think that authenticity doesn’t fade with time and I want those memories to linger long after I’ve recycled my body.

I don’t really ever want to say “goodbye” for a final time to my beloved child (or anyone else I love, for that matter). But the day and time will come to do precisely that — if I’m lucky enough to get that special chance. Completing our Wills was a vitally important step in planning for a future of which I won’t be a part. It’s one less “to do” on my “prepare for your own death” list. Now, comes the fun and hopefully very long part of living this life with Gracelyn as if each day was both the very last one together and the very first too. Here’s intending to complete this “to do” with gratitude and awe for even getting to be on this journey together at all.

“I was on a train on a rainy day. The train was slowing down to pull into a station. For some reason, I became intent on watching the raindrops on the window. Two separate drops, pushed by the wind, merged into one for a moment and then divided again – each carrying with it a part of the other. Simply by that momentary touching, neither was what it had been before. And as each one went on to touch other raindrops, it shared not only itself, but what it had gleaned from the other. I saw this metaphor many years ago and it is one of my most vivid memories. I realized then that we never touch people so lightly that we do not leave a trace.”

~ Peggy Tabor Millin, Mary’s Way

(On a strange note, my mom’s birthday is tomorrow. She would have been 69. Maybe that’s where this post came from and I was simply the transcriptionist.)


3 thoughts on “Planning to leave before saying “goodbye”

  1. Good for you (on many counts, not the least of which is being responsible about your own affairs). It’s laziness and not fear that keeps me from doing the same, but I’m inspired now to “just do it,” as my running shoe manufacturer would say.

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