It’s that time of year when many of us find our thoughts turning to Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, or Christmas gift-giving (Chanukah’s already started, of course, but you could probably sneak something in before it ends). With the secular new year around the corner, we may also be thinking about resolutions, and perhaps resolving to check on the state of affairs regarding our wishes around death and dying.
We here at Tangleroot Endeavors (by which I mean your humble author with input from Leora Effinger-Weintraub) have assembled our (first annual?) deathly gift guide, a modest list of gifts for your favorite mortal. These gifts are nice not only for themselves, but also for the peace of mind they offer both giver and receiver.
- My Final Wishes or similar workbook. Less formal than an advance directive, this workbook contains sections on after-death care, funeral planning, and where our pets should go when we die, giving folks a low-pressure way to start writing (and talking) about end-of-life (EOL) wishes. Consider gifting two copies: one with your wishes filled in; the other blank for the recipient to fill in their own wants.
- Go Wish. This simple card game can help you while away those long winter nights with conversations about your EOL plans.
- Fireproof file box. Emergency documents like Do Not Resuscitate orders and advance directives should go in your freezer where emergency responders are trained to look for them. Other documents that will be necessary at EOL or after death, but may be less time sensitive, can be kept in a closet or storage area in a fireproof file box. Documents that could go in here might include:
- Life insurance policy
- Home ownership papers
- Birth certificate/marriage certificate/partner’s death certificate, if applicable
- Intellectual property documents for the artsy types
- The location and nature of your financial holdings, and/or the name and contact info of your financial advisor, if any. Ditto for your attorney.
- A list of all your major online accounts and their passwords
- For my fellow Pagans: if your family of origin doesn’t know you’re Pagan, or if you think they won’t know what to do with your witchy accoutrements, this would be a good place keep a copy of your dewitchification plan. This document outlines how your coven/temple/grove/community should handle your altars, ritual garb and accessories, Books of Shadows, &c. before your family of origin swoops in and freaks out.
- Planning workshops. Advance directive too advanced? Funeral planning got you in a hole? Will more of a won’t? Legally, you don’t need professional help to complete any death-related document. But sometimes it can all seem overwhelming, and you need a hand to get you through. A Google search for “death planning workshop” + your location can net you a handful of options to gift to your favorite deathling. (My fellow Minnesotans may also consider a gift registration for the almost-full “Bury Yourself in Your Work: Build Your Own Casket,” a three-day workshop at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais this January.)
- If you have a beloved going through a rough time with their family or community around EOL/after death issues, consider getting them a mediation session, or book one as a timely gift for your own family or community, if needed. A trained mediator will remain neutral while helping all parties involved engage with the conflict and develop solutions that satisfy everyone. Look for mediation/conflict resolution nonprofits in your area.
- Of course, your deathy gifts don’t need to cost much. For no more than the cost of stationery and a stamp, you can write your loved ones The Letter. Inspired by the Letter Project at Stanford University Medical School, this is a personal message from you to the people in your life who will make those difficult decisions about your life and death. While documents like advance directives and POLSTs (physician orders for life-sustaining treatment) deal with specific medical decisions your health care agent may face, The Letter is all about who you are at your core, the values and beliefs that underpin the EOL wishes you’ve expressed. That way, no matter what unforeseen decisions your agent has to make, they have your voice guiding them toward the choice you would want.
- Or how about a deathly coffee date with someone who you haven’t connected with in a while but might like to be involved in your death? Maybe you’d like them to sing at your funeral or be part of the preparation of your body. There’s no time like the present to buy them a hot drink, catch up on each other’s lives, and ask them for this beautiful deathly favor.
- Copies of your important death-related documents (advance directive, financial power of attorney, disposition instructions, funeral plan, obituary, and will are common choices) tied up with a bow and given to the people who will ultimately be responsible for carrying out their instructions, make low-cost, high-reward gifts.
- On the other hand, if you have a lot of money to spend, maybe surprise your favorite future corpse with Coeio’s Infinity Burial Suit, which will turn them into mushrooms. If, you know, you happen to know someone who likes death and mushrooms.
Heck yeah, this was fun. Next year I’ll try to get something up closer to Samhain, which is an excellent time for thinking about death!*
Happy holidays and happy death planning from all of us here at Tangleroot!