DEATH IN STRIDE:
Every person who reads or hears these words will die.
And every one of us will have some process leading down to death.
Unless we die suddenly from accident or violence,
we will probably have some
months of dying
before we are finally pronounced dead.
How often do we handle death well?
We all can think of tales of deaths that were tragic and mismanaged.
Thus, we know what we want to avoid.
Since we cannot avoid death itself,
we can make plans now so that we will avoid
at least the worse dimensions
of the process of dying.
Preparing and planning for death will never be
Even if something about our ideal pathway towards death
cannot be accomplished exactly as imaged beforehand,
at least laying out our
ideal way to die
should guide what actually happens to us in the last year of our lives.
This cyber-sermon outlines several practical steps
we can all begin to take whenever we are ready.
It might be helpful to start a loose-leaf notebook named "MY DEATH".
Each section of this notebook will be devoted
to one part of our plan for death.
We should have at least these 4 sections:
ADVANCE DIRECTIVE FOR MEDICAL CARE
ESTATE WILL OR TRUST
3. DISPOSITION OF OUR REMAINS
FUNERAL OR MEMORIAL SERVICE
DEATH IN STRIDE:
James Leonard Park
1. ADVANCE DIRECTIVE FOR MEDICAL CARE
Even years before we are ready to die,
we should each develop a method of making medical decisions
in case there are times between now and the hour of our death
when we will be unable to
make medical decisions.
Our times of inability might be temporary
when we are unconscious for any reason.
But at the end of each of our lives,
most of us will eventually become so debilitated
by our diseases or by simple old age
that others will have to
make our medical decisions for us.
If we do not care what will happen to us medically
then we do not need an Advance Directive for Medical Care.
We will simply be treated according to the standard operating
of whatever hospital we happen to go to
and whatever medical staff members are on duty.
But if we have developed any sense of our own
then we should put our ideas about medical care into a written document.
Laws authorizing Advance Directives allow us to make such
years before our
instructions might be needed.
As long as we remain able to make our own medical decisions,
the hospital and doctors will follow our immediate choices.
However, if ever we do
lose the capacity
to choose among the various medical options,
then we need proxies
who will follow and enforce our
An Advance Directive can be as simple or
comprehensive as we choose.
We will probably start with a simple form provided by the state where
After we have filled in the blanks,
we might feel a need to explain ourselves more completely.
This is always possible, even with Advance Directives of one
Simply add more pages for your additional, detailed instructions.
One way to create a
comprehensive Advance Directive
is to draft an Answer for each of the following open-ended Questions:
A brief explanation of each Question appears here:
And here is a portal for other Internet resources for creating an
2. ESTATE WILL OR TRUST
Almost all of us have some tangible possessions to
If we make no provisions for distributing our assets,
the law has complex methods for making those decisions after our
This is called "probate", which means proving the will is valid.
And if there is no written "last will and testament",
then the law proceeds to distribute our property
according to its established system of priorities.
The law in each state of the United States and of
all other countries
defines who counts as 'kin'—and
their order of priority.
Sometimes the law defines what percentage must go to each relative.
According to the law, relatives are defined by 'blood' or marriage.
'Blood' means people who are related to us by reproduction.
Our blood relatives are our parents, siblings, children, etc.
Marriage is a legal contracts created between adults.
We create and dissolve our marriages by registered legal means.
And the registrations of our marriages are permanent.
If we change our marriage-partners,
the dates of such changes are also recorded.
Frequently, blood relationships do not reflect
how we would actually wish to distribute our assets after we die.
Or we might wish to favor some relatives over other,
even if the law says that all our siblings or children are equal.
Some of such blood relatives might be in greater need than others.
Perhaps all of them have more than enough wealth already.
Sometimes our chosen personal relationships have moved on
from a time when we officially contracted marriage with someone.
A written will or estate plan sets forth exactly how
we want to distribute our assets if we were to die this week.
And we can include provisions that will change the
as other things happen either before or after our deaths,
for example as children become adults or more mature adults.
A written plan for distribution of assets after our
will make our deaths much easier for those who are left behind.
If the plan is clear and unambiguous, there will be no disputes.
The executor of the will or the trustee of the estate
will follow all of the instructions we put into writing.
After 6 months, all of the assets belong to other people and
When we have large estates—over
5 million dollars in the USA in 2011—
estate taxes will be due to various levels of government.
If we spend our assets before death, such taxes can be reduced.
And if we give some of our assets to various organizations before
this portion will not be counted as part of our estates.
However, assets given to relatives
shortly before death
do get counted as part of the
The basic difference between a will and a trust
is that a will is a static
which must be followed in each detail as written.
A trust is an on-going legal
entity that can make new decisions.
The trustee is empowered to manage the assets given to the
And if essentially all of our assets are in a trust at the end of our
there is no need for the process of probate at all.
The trustee automatically takes control of everything in the trust,
just as we controlled
our assets while we were living.
This cyber-sermon does not intend to offer legal
Seek more information from legal authorities where you live and are
likely to die.
And we should update our wills or trusts
to keep all of the choices relevant to our current situations.
When we get married or divorced,
when we have children, grandchildren, or when some relatives die,
we might change our estate plans.
We might find new charities to receive some of our assets after our
3. DISPOSITION OF OUR
Even before our tangible assets are distributed to
our survivors will have to do something with our bodies.
used to be the most common way of handling the dead.
This means purchasing the services of an 'undertaker' or mortician.
Our bodies will be prepared according to their standard procedures,
which usually includes embalming
to preserve the dead tissues as long
Then our bodies will be encased in caskets and vaults
and buried in a purchased piece of land in a cemetery.
The price of this plot is supposed to include 'perpetual care',
but the actual history of cemeteries suggests that
when the cemetery is
full, and no new money is coming in,
the 'perpetual care' comes to an end.
The cemetery is abandoned or passes to some government body.
How many cemetery plots are still cared for 200 years after the
is a simpler process, with lower costs.
Our bodies are burned until there is nothing left but a small pile of
These ashes can be kept, dispersed, or buried as we might wish.
is another option.
This means giving our bodies to some medical institution after death,
where it will be used for the education of doctors, nurses, &
After such use, the remains will be cremated and handled as we
Contact the department of anatomy of your chosen medical school.
4. FUNERAL OR MEMORIAL
Usually in conjunction with whatever we have
to do with our bodies after death,
the people who cared about us at the end of our lives
will want to create some collective events to remember our lives.
Funerals are the most traditional of such gatherings,
but even funerals can be modified to suit the people involved.
If our bodies have already been disposed of
according to our plans,
then the gathering is generally called a "memorial service".
And the fact that the body will not be present
enables us to plan the date of the memorial service
some weeks or even months after the death.
This might be more convenient for large or busy families,
who cannot drop everything for a funeral tomorrow or the day after.
And there is no rule preventing more than one
We are free to create any plans we wish for after-death family events.
Some plans will be more detailed than others.
We can plan specifically for the people who will be remembering us.
James Park is an independent existential philosopher
with deep interest in medical ethics,
especially the many issues that arise at the end of life.
Medical Ethics and Death are two of the seven doors
to his website called "An Existential Philosopher's Museum":
11-8-2008; Revised 12-11-2008; 1-31-2009; 5-7-2010; 1-29-2011;
1-7-2012; 2-26-2012; 3-17-2012; 7-26-2012; 8-26-2012
Here are a few related cyber-sermons also by James
Own Pathway towards Death .
Live Well Now, Omit the Last Month .
Marks of Personhood:
Discussing Degrees of Mental Decline .
Directives for Medical Care:
24 Important Questions to Answer
Choosing Your Date of Death:
How to Achieve a Timely Death
—Not too Soon,
Not too Late .
Chosen Deaths per Year?
A Paradigm for Life-Ending Decisions .
Books on Preparing for Death
Books on Advance
Directives for Medical Care
Books on Voluntary Death
on Terminal Care
Go to the Book
to discover 350 other reviews
organized into more than 60 bibliographies.
Return to the DEATH
Go to the Medical Ethics
Go to other
cyber-sermons by James Park,
organized into 10 subject-areas.