Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What do you do on the news of DEMISE?

It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.” BY Lemony Snicket

In the recent past, I have witnessed and experienced up close and personal several people dealing with difficult situations on the news of demise
Case of parents losing children
Case of children losing parents
Case of one losing spouse (wife / husband)
Case of one losing family (sibling, uncle, aunt, cousin, etc. etc.)
Case of one losing friends
Case of one losing their guide for life
Case of one losing someone they admire
Case of one losing someone who was their emotional anchor in life

And what I've realized is three important truths:
1) Death is inevitable.. And when your time is up, its up - There are no extensions, there is no extra time...
2) One can never really be prepared to deal with this loss. There will be a permenant void in your life – especially if the person meant the world to you OR was your world!
3) When you go, people usually remember you for the way your touched their lives, what you taught them, what you made them realize and the difference you made (through your silences, words, deeds) to them in the larger journey of life

Most times, one's world is turned upside down and only time can possibly heal ... And sometimes time can never really heal and one continues living with the memories....

In this post, I am listing few important things which can be done on the news of demise. The intent is really to share the learning's from my own personal experiences

1) Explore Organ Donation
One of the realities of today is that there are several patients dealing with chronic illness where organ transplantation is probably their only chance at leading a better quality of life. And the other fact is that there is always a dearth of organs for any kind of organ transplantation. Hence, cadaver organ donation is increasingly becoming an important source of organs like eyes, kidneys, etc. If one has already been registered to donate any organ (for e.g.: eyes), contact the corresponding agencies immediately to initiate this. There is only a specified time window up to which this is feasible and hence sooner the process is initiated the better! From my experience, most of these agencies are extremely efficient in their operations and ensure that they take immediate action.
However, in most cases this is not something which occurs to people in such situations and many people I know regret it later. An aunty of mine who is very dear to me lost her husband a few months ago. When we spoke recently, she told me that if someone had just suggested it to her, she would be definitely open to organ donation. She said "Atleast he will continue to live on in some way and that would mean a lot to me"

2) Inform people who need to know
Next and more important, inform people who need to know. This includes family, friends, people who cared about him / her, people whom he / she cared about. This is usually difficult to do because everyone wants to know "How it happened?", "When it happened?", "Why it happened?".. and that's not easy to repeat. The best way is to ask someone else in your inner network (uncle, aunt, cousin, close friend, etc.) to do it. If you can't do it immediately, then ensure you inform people over time. From my experience, generally such news spreads rapidly by word of mouth. So if you inform a few people in your inner network, they spread the message (even if you don't ask them). An obituary in the paper or even social media can be powerful channels to communicate to the world at large.

3) Perform the last rites with respect
Everyone deserves to be given respect - and definitely during the last rites. The one thing which is important is to be "fully present" in those last moments because you will never really have a "physical" glimpse of them every again! And the best way to do this is to keep your mobiles switched off during this time. I have been in several funerals where people are talking on their mobiles, playing games, tweeting and even on FaceBook in the middle of such proceedings! I personally find this very disrespectful! I mean if you've come to pay your respects to someone, then focus on that! The games, Twitter, FaceBook, etc. can wait! I think its better to not go than to be disrespectful at a funeral!

4) Mourn
This is the most important part of healing and coming to terms with life. The inital few days are usually filled with calls, people and things to do that somehow one does not get time to "truly mourn". But mourning is an important part of recovery.  For some it is being alone. For some it is in donations. For some it is keeping themselves extremely busy. For some it is in writing. For some it is in social work. For some it is in teaching. For some it is in art. For some it is with children. For some it is in religious activities. For some it is in spirituality... Whatever be you preferred way to mourn, do it! And what I've realized is that it is also important for people CRY! - You can cry alone or with someone, in private or public. But ensure that the tears flow! There is something liberating about crying - especially when you are dealing with the loss of someone you deeply loved!

5) Ask for Help
The reality is that people have to live life in spite of the loss. There are things to do, bills to be paid, stuff to be sorted, etc etc. - A zillion things come your way and suddenly everything gets so overwhelming. This is one time when most people usually need all the help in the world. And usually don't ask as emotions are high and mind is scattered.
If you are going through a phase when you need help, ask for it. More often than not, others will help. And if you see someone around you going through this phase, extend help in whatever way you can. Sometimes just listen. Sometimes just help with everyday chores. Sometimes just do things which need to be done like paying bills, Sometimes just keep quiet and don't offer your advice or opinions, etc. And if you need professional help, then explore it. Also, there are several online resources which can help in dealing with your emotions during this vulnerable phase. One good example is a site called Live with Loss run by Suraj Shah who is Bereavement support visitor in addition to a writer and speaker.

6) Try not to be alone
The period immediately after demise is the most painful for those who have been in the same living environment. Not only are the memories very strong, but the absence is immensely felt on a day to day basis for the simple everyday routine! And hence it is important to be amidst the company of others. Else, there is a high chance that you will end up feeling sad, depressed and miserable by the end of the day. There is something about "being physically alone" which triggers "loneliness - emotionally and mentally" and this can be terrifying, depressing and unnerving. So try not to be alone. Either stay with family or friends for a few days or ask someone to stay with you for a few days!

7) Initiate the process for financial transfers and settlements
One of the most important aspects is to re-organize your finances. Take a stock of where things are. Plan for the financial security of the future. Initiate the process of insurance claims and transfer of assets, as applicable. For e.g.: Bank money transfers, Fixed Deposit transfers, Share transfers, Fixed asset transfer (like land, house, etc.).
If there is a will, this is a lot easier, Else you may need the help of a lawyer. The fact is that most of the financial transations take time to complete, and hence the sooner you initiate the better. And in the mean time if you need financial assistance, don't hesitate to ask for help! Again, most people in your inner network will help even without asking. You don't need to deal with unnecessary issues during this phase at least!
Additional Lessons:
1) Check your own personal nominee details for existing financial investments and ensure it is updated regularly. I know of several cases where the process of recovery and settlement of finances was very difficult simply because the nominee details were not updated or were incorrectly updated.
2) Create a will for yourself. Life is so much easier for those around you if there is a documented will

8) Do something in their memory
Find ways to keep their memory alive. And while most of us focus on the memories and re-live them in many ways, what is also important is to celebrate the achievements and successes of those you lost and also be grateful for the big / small things they taught you (consciously / unconsciously).  And if you're wondering how, here are 5 Practical Ways to keep someone's memory alive.

9) Think about your legacy
Finally what one leaves back is a legacy. And while financial legacy is what most people focus on in their life, I honestly believe there are many aspects to your legacy worth thinking about. If you're wondering what they could be, here are a few suggestions which I think are an integral part of anyone's legacy - Knowledge, Books, Self taught / acquired skills...Read my post on What's the legacy you'll leave behind to get more ideas...

On that note, I'll end stating that dealing with death is never easy. But time heals, time gives strength and life moves in.

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