The Happiness Connection  

Death dues

I love this time of year. I look closely at my garden every morning to see what new buds are forming. I enjoy watching everything spring back to life.

This habit feels even more rewarding this year as I deal with the death of my father. He passed on March 7. Although we started the process for medically assisted death, he didn’t need it.

One day after I submitted the paperwork for MAiD, he died peacefully in his sleep.

I miss him, but it’s hard to mourn his passing. It’s what he wanted. He wasn’t in pain and he was at home. He would have been 93 in May.

I’m blessed to have had both my parents until they were in their 90s. My mom is adjusting amazingly well and has decided to leave her home and move into an assisted living residence.

My dad didn’t want a service or wake. He simply wanted to be cremated and put into the niche he had purchased for him and Mom many decades ago.

As my parents reached their 90s, I knew the years remaining for them were shrinking. I began to think about how I’ll feel if I reach that age.

What comes to mind when you think about death? Maybe it’s a subject you don’t want to ponder.

None of us can escape it and yet we tend not to spend much time thinking about the nitty gritty details of death.

The transition of the soul and whether to bury or scatter may come to mind. But what about all the endless notifications and next steps that have to be navigated by those left behind?

My dad felt he had taken a weight off our shoulders by buying a place for his and Mom’s ashes. It was a lovely gesture, but only a drop in the bucket of things that need to be done.

My father was in charge of all the financial and legal documents. My mom was a typical 1950s housewife. She tries to help as much as she can, but as a bereaved 90-year-old, she struggles to answer my questions.

She told me the name of the funeral home they had made their arrangements with. I contacted them. We made an appointment to speak with them the next day and for them to collect the body.

I picked Mom up at the agreed time, and she directed me to the location of the funeral home. As we sat in the car outside the building, something didn’t add up. The name on the sign was different than the company I had contacted the day before.

I felt somewhat embarrassed as I called them from the car to ask if they had Dad. How do you word something like that?

As I suspected from the moment we pulled into the parking lot, their answer was no.

Yes, you guessed it. We sent Dad to the wrong place.

It took a few phone calls and some extra fees, but we got the body transferred to the correct company.

The next unexpected hurdle resulted from Dad’s lovely gesture of buying the niche such a long time ago. The dimensions of it aren’t common any more.

It took the funeral director some time to find a place that sold urns that would fit.

I bought one for Mom at the same time. Just to be sure she’ll fit in when her turn comes.

I laughingly tell my mom that this is just a trial run for when I have to take care of everything for her. That’s the sort of thing we joke about.

In some ways, dealing with the funeral home has been the easiest part of this process. I expected to be involved. I remember helping with the arrangements many years ago when my mother-in-law died.

What I hadn’t considered was all the other stuff that has to be dealt with when someone dies. I had no idea there was so much paperwork involved.

Honestly, I don’t think I expected to be the one who had to deal with that side of death. I’m not sure who I thought would do it, but it didn’t occur to me that it would be me.

Everyone who has an account with Dad’s name on it needs to be notified of his death. Some places are obvious, others less so.

I can find lists online, but they’re general, not specific to my father. Even if I know what needs to be changed, I often don’t know who to reach out to.

For example, I know his name needs to come off the property taxes. I started by calling the City of Kelowna. They weren’t sure who to put me through to, but eventually I discovered that they get their information from BC Assessment.

BC Assessment told me they got their information from the BC Land Title Office. It often takes me multiple calls before I arrive at the correct destination.

I’ve been lucky that almost everything my parents had was held in joint names. Because everything passes to Mom, that makes things a lot easier.

I’ve had to make these calls with Mom sitting with me in case they need her permission to speak with me.

To make this easier in the future, we’ve added me as an authorized contact to as many places as possible. This means I can contact them on her behalf.

I started this process of notification three weeks ago. The end is in sight, but it’s not as close as I’d like it to be.

Another thing that hasn’t turn out the way I’d imagined is my mother’s decision to move out of her home. I thought she’d take some time before she made any big decisions.

Her choice means downsizing, and then clearing and selling the house.

We found a place she likes, and a moving date has been set. Of course, that means I’m going to have to start contacting many of these places again to cancel services and make changes to contact information.

It’s a good thing I’m in a place of laughing rather than crying.

This experience has given me a lot of opportunities to learn and grow. It’s reenforced my belief that you never know how things will turn out until you get there.

Be cautious of thinking you know how something will transpire and be prepared for the unexpected.

I’m taking notes so when my mother passes, I’ll be more prepared for the resulting tasks. I’m also hoping to make things easier for my kids when their turn comes to follow this process.

If you have aging parents, or you want to help your children, I’ve included a list of things you may want to consider. This isn’t inclusive and will be different for everyone, but hopefully it will be a good start.

  • Make a will and make sure there is a note that says where it is.
  • If you’re married (legally or common law,) put everything applicable into joint names.
  • Gather together and leave instructions as to where important items are. These may include: Birth certificates or residency documents; Marriage certificate if applicable

We spent several hours hunting for the original wedding certificate because my mom had no idea where it was. The funeral home and Service Canada needed to see it and make copies.

  • Social Insurance numbers
  • Passports
  • Safety deposit box keys and where the box is if you have one.
  • Safe keys or combinations
  • Recent tax returns

Make a list of:

  • Bank accounts
  • Pensions, life insurance policies, etc.
  • Current subscriptions that need to be canceled.
  • Auto payments that are being made from your bank account or onto credit cards.
  • Accountant and lawyer names
  • Investments

Don’t rely on your memory. Even if your mind is clear and active, grief takes its toll.

The death of a loved one comes with duties for someone. Instead of ignoring this fact, consider lessen their load by getting your affairs, or the affairs of aging relatives in order.

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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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