By Chris Haring

When Shaina Feinberg’s healthy father died unexpectedly at 74 years old, she and her mother learned how beneficial preparing for death in advance can be.

Facing the reality of death is often uncomfortable and daunting, yet an inevitable part of life. In fact, fewer than half of Americans have discussed their preferred end-of-life options with loved ones. 

In a recent New York Times pieceI Asked My Mom if She Was Prepared to Die – from Shaina Feinberg and illustrated by Julia Rothman, the author navigates the complexities of end-of-life preparedness through a candid conversation with her 82-year-old mother.

Navigating uncharted waters: an unexpected death brings grief, questions

The sudden passing of Feinberg’s father, Paul, left their family grappling with unforeseen challenges. Amidst the emotional turmoil of loss, her mother found herself thrust into a whirlwind of logistical tasks, from funeral arrangements to financial paperwork. 

An overwhelming amount of laborious – and sometimes upsetting – communications can await survivors, Feinberg said. She noted a particular piece of invaluable advice she received from a friend: “Get a lot of death certificates.”

When approaching the end of life, preparation can be a lasting final gift 

Discussing the impending death of a family member or a friend may be extremely difficult. Moreover, considering – and taking action on – “contingency” plans for a terminal illness (such as choosing medical aid in dying) can further exacerbate existing anxieties. 

However, as Sarah Chavez, executive director of the Order of the Good Death, emphasizes, the significance of having open conversations about end-of-life preferences can serve as a profound parting gift to the loved ones left behind. By quelling uncertainties and getting a head-start on posthumous administrative tasks, they can better focus on handling their grief and day-to-day lives.

When considering end-of-life options, taking practical steps can be empowering

In Feinberg’s piece, several end-of-life experts offer insights into navigating the complexities of preparation. Estate planning lawyer Michael Pevney stresses the importance of maintaining essential documents. Meanwhile, funeral director Joél Simone Maldonado encourages family conversations about deceased loved ones as a springboard for discussing end-of-life hopes and preferences.

Ultimately, Feinberg says, it was the sudden and unexpected nature of her father’s death – and how unprepared he and her family were for both the event and its aftermath – that led to her mother becoming “super prepared.” Now, rather than potentially facing the imposing proposition of cobbling together needed paperwork to settle debts, Feinberg can focus on the important details – such as booking a mariachi band – that her mother has had the foresight to request while still very much alive.

For more information on end-of-life planning, check out Death with Dignity’s comprehensive Life File resource.