I’ve been preparing to die since I was 29. After all, I’ve come close a few times and a lot of doctors didn’t give me much hope that I’d live to see old age. Why? I have an incurable autoimmune condition, igG4 related systemic disease. It makes me vulnerable to heart disease, diabetes, infections and potentially fatal organ failure. Despite the prospect of a lifetime of pain and procedures, I’m not thinking about killing myself like Brittany Maynard. However, like her, I am worried about dying with dignity.
The thought of passing on to what I believe to be the afterlife doesn’t frighten me. My main concern is how others would cope with it. But, at least initially, I didn’t know what I could do to make it even slightly easier on my loved ones.
I realized my parents taught me the things I needed to be a grown up: how to drive, pay bills, help others, etc… My bosses taught how to strive to be clear, concise and informative. My friends taught me how to get through good and bad times without crumbling. My doctors taught me how to be responsible for my health and medications; ultimate how to fight to live. My faith taught me how to prepare my soul to meet my maker. Yet, no one taught me how to prepare to die. I learned that on my own.
I began educating myself about dying after I survived hemorrhaging in a strange apartment on a first date. I’d loss some much blood, the bathroom looked like a crime scene and the two pair of pants, mine and his, were saturated. By the time, I made it to the hospital I was cold, weak and drifting in and out of consciousness. I’d hemorrhaged before but never had I come so close to dying; unfortunately it wouldn’t be my last dance with the grim reaper.
I didn’t fully comprehend the magnitude of my near misses; that is until I saw the look on the face of my parents becoming more worrisome year by year. I quickly determined, if I had to die before them, I didn’t want them to have to worry about the arrangements, my debts or my medical wishes.
So, when I purchased my home a year later, I bought enough life insurance to cover the mortgage. Sure, I already had coverage through work but I wanted a policy I could maintain if I got too ill to work. I made sure to get it before I reached an age where I had to meet a medical requirement.
It was clear to me what to do next. I hired an attorney to draw up my will. I listed all of my accounts, designated beneficiaries and even spelled out who gets what possession in my home. I also added a side letter detailing my desire for funeral plans. As a single person, I knew without a will the distribution of my assets would be decided by Surrogate Court in New Jersey. I’d worked too hard under difficult circumstances to let a stranger decide who gets what I accumulated over my lifetime.
Next up, I completed a health proxy. I selected the person who is responsible for making health decision for me when I cannot. My living will was crafted to list what kind of medical interventions I’d want, including life support, feed tubes, etc… Then, I had to make one of the hardest decision, who to give power of attorney; the person who’d have immediate access to my accounts to pay my bills while I was incapacitated.
Now that all my documents done, I am, at least on paper, prepared to die because I know all my affairs will be handled just the way I want. But, in reality, my hope is that death doesn’t come for anytime soon. I yearn to prove my doctors wrong by living a long and as healthy a life as I possibly can. And, my greatest desire is to spare my parents from having to bury their child.
About the author:
Nika C. Beamon is the author of the memoir, Misdiagnosed: The Search for Dr. House, about her quest to get the correct medical diagnosis. In 2009, Chicago Review Press published her first non-fiction book, I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married. She is also the author of two mystery books, Dark Recesses and Eyewitness. Beamon is a journalist working in NYC.