Meeting With The Grim Reaper’s Secretary


It’s Not Just Me

The more I talk to people my age I realize we’re going through the very same thing. We’re dealing with sick and aging parents. We’re becoming grandparents. We’re going through menopause. And we’re getting our $%&* in order. I was laughing with a friend about someone “trying out their grave plot” by laying on it to see if it fits!

If you’ve read About Me and why I started this minimalism stuff and this blog, you’ll know that one of my goals was to “get my affairs in order.” That’s a fancy, old movie way of saying I needed to meet with the Grim Reaper’s secretary.

I’ve had 6 people in my life die in the span of a year. These were pretty close people, too. So close that I was involved in knowing whether their “affairs” were in order or not.

And I can tell you this: If you love the people who will be walking with you through an illness and perhaps your death, do them a favor and make as many decisions as you can beforehand and pay for it beforehand otherwise it’s ALL going to fall on them. It’s hard on them. They are grieving and it’s difficult to guess what you want during that time. So help them out by getting your affairs in order beforehand. 

It is not selfish to plan your funeral, in fact, it a gift you’re giving to the ones left behind! I know because I have been the one left behind and it’s miserable to try to guess at what you want. We’re worried about upsetting people and it’s so great to say to those who want to argue, “sorry, this is what they wanted.”

I put off this part of my minimalist journey for as long as I could. I decluttered, discarded, organized and blogged about everything I could before getting to this. But after I got back from my father’s funeral a few months ago, I decided to get on with it.

I’m going to tell you about what I did and if it will depress you, just move on to something else. I understand, there are days I just don’t want to talk about his stuff.

Have Conversations

The first thing I did was to try to have conversations with my husband about what he thought we should do. We had many conversations because it’s a pretty depressing topic and it would just get too heavy and so we’d go do something fun to get our minds off of it. I had this notion that we had to do the same thing. And we were not in agreement at first. He wanted to be cremated and that was not a common practice in my family. So, there was a lot of back and forth, give and take.

Since my kids are more than likely going to be the ones who handle all the arrangements, I tried to have conversations with them about how they felt about different funerals and ways families dealt with the passing of a loved one. These conversations were even more brief. They did not want to talk about my husband or me dying at all. But I kept pressing them, in small doses, until I felt like I had a pretty good idea of how they felt.

Once my husband and I came to an agreement and I had my kid’s input, which was very important to me, I moved on to research.


The Grim Reaper’s Secretary Is a Pretty Funny Guy

After all the hard conversations my husband and I came to a compromise: we are going to be cremated, our ashes scattered in the ocean but we will have a memorial marker, here where we’ve lived most of our lives, to mark a spot on the earth where we were. I also wanted it for those who might want to do family research in the future.

So, I went to the cemetery where I already have some family members and friends, a place we live near and met with the guys in the office. Once I told them what I was doing, they were relieved. They usually have to deal with people who have to have their services immediately, who are grieving and it’s just a tough job. However, since I was in good health, no big hurry and they saw I was willing to laugh about joke about such a grim subject, they seemed to enjoy themselves. We shared about our lives and told stories. I actually enjoyed hanging with those guys.

I realized that to do their job, they have to really love people and want to sincerely help them at one of the most difficult times in a person’s life. I have come to really admire people in the death business.

The guys walked me through the process. They gave me a workbook where I answered questions to help me make decisions. It’s also a book that I can keep so my kids can have the details of what we want all spelled out. It also has a step-by-step guide for them to know what to do. It also includes contact information they will need. I’m really glad to be able to leave so much help for them.

The cemetery guys helped me arrange all the details from death to burial. From how my body will be shipped to the place it will be cremated to getting the ashes to my kids to throw in the ocean.

Beach Trip! 

My husband and I were in complete agreement that we wanted to give our kids a trip to the beach when we died. As a family, we find comfort and peace at the ocean. So, we built in a trip to the beach to scatter our ashes. I researched and found out legally how it has to be done. I wrote it all out for the kids and I’m actually in the process of making sure they have access to the money to do it.

Since I’m still “young” and I don’t know where I will be or who will be involved in my life when I die, I decided I would leave planning a memorial service up to them. Since I’ve been to a lot of memorial services lately, I felt like I could offer them suggestions so I wrote down a few ideas.

*Money, money money! I thought I’d throw in this fact that the life insurance money that we’re all depending on to pay for our funerals doesn’t kick in for like 3 weeks or more after they get the death certificates. Most of the funeral arrangements have to be paid for on the spot. Who’s going to cover for it all until the insurance money comes in? Who’s credit card will it go on? Just asking. 

Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way

Now that I’ve decided what to do with my mortal remains, it’s time to think about my stuff.

I haven’t actually written a will yet. I’m still researching and thinking about it. All I know is that one needs to be in place.

I have heard many people say, “I don’t have much of anything to leave behind, so I don’t need a will. My kids and grandkids can have whatever they want. It will be fine.” Can I just say that is foolishness and you are setting your family up for conflict.

You can not know how you’re going to feel about a loved one’s possessions until after they’ve died. Stuff you thought you didn’t care about take on enormous importance after death. 

Even the smallest thing can come to mean a great deal. So, if you own anything, a house, a car, have a bank account and furniture, you need to detail what you want done with the stuff!

Let me give you a couple of examples of how conflicts can arise over stuff:

Let’s say that I die and I own a car. It might not be worth more than a couple thousand dollars. What happens to the car? You might say, “your kids get it.” Ok, which kid? I have two. You might say, “the one who needs it.” What if both need it? What if one needs it, then the other one gets nothing from the car? How will the kid who gets nothing feel? Ok, you say, “then sell it and have them split the money.” Who will take on the chore of selling it?

Do you see what I’m saying? Think about your jewelry, family photographs or a tool collection. How are the kids going to sort that out? You can help them by spelling out who gets what. You’ll save them the conflict and stress of having to sort it all out. Or better yet, go ahead and declutter and give them the stuff now!

Here’s another one. True story. I saw this happen in a family.

So the mother dies. The father moves into a different house. He decides to get rid of the family furniture because it can’t fit in his new place but doesn’t offer it to the children because it’s his furniture now and he just doesn’t think about the sentimental value. A daughter-in-law ends up with a table from the family furniture. She saves it from being sent to a thrift shop and since she thinks it’s just thrift store junk so she has no respect for it and allows her children to draw on it and tear it up. One of the deceased mother’s children come for a visit to the daughter-in-law’s house. She sees the table and breaks down in tears. She knew how much the mother loved the table. She has memories of sitting at the table as a child and enjoying times with her mother around that table. She doesn’t feel like she can say anything and she doesn’t want to start an argument, but she is so crushed with the father for not allowing her to have the table and hurt with the daughter-in-law for having no respect for the family heirlooms she never goes back to the daughter-in-law’s house again. There was a big breach in the family over a little table.

So, you just never know how you will feel when a loved one dies and you’ll never know how people will feel about your stuff when you die. My plan is to go ahead and decide.

Let me encourage you to go ahead and meet with the Grim Reaper’s secretary. Make the plans for your mortal remains. Then get on with deciding what will happen with your stuff. I’m telling you, after going through this many, many times you will be giving the best gift you can imagine to your family and friends!

Ok, I’m off to working on my will. I’ll let you know how that goes.









One thought on “Meeting With The Grim Reaper’s Secretary

  1. Best advice ever! I, like you, have seen families split apart over unseemingly trivial things.
    Planning is essential. My parents have done that and now I’ve done that very thing. Funeral, burial, will, etc.
    Now I have to earmark possessions.
    Thank you for a great reminder to all of us.

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