My column “A revealing look at obituaries” (Oct. 13, 2014) opened up some interesting conversations around Napa. After it appeared, many readers told me it was a great idea to write your own obituary and planned to do some writing, just in case.
Several years ago, my husband, Philip, told me I could find something I needed on his computer. I could not do it. I didn’t have the most basic information, his password. This was a startling point. It made us think that this may be a common problem.
A few months after that, we were out to dinner with the director of the California Judges Association. She told us she received many calls from judges’ spouses and partners. They always were asking about death benefits from the judges association. She was always sorry to tell the callers that the association did not provide them. It was obvious to her, that important information had not been shared or records kept for the survivor. I told her that when Philip changed his code, I failed to write it down or find it on that little scrap of paper in the kitchen.
My impulsive comment led to the three of us preparing a workbook for judges and their spouses for collecting basic facts that surviving family members need to know upon a death. Our workbook contained sections for basic information with forms to fill out with names, addresses and contact information for all the agencies in your lives; a list of benefits, life insurance agents, pension plans, investment advisers, accountants, and lawyers. Included were such things as passwords, codes, lock combinations, lists of credit cards, loans and banks.
We also included real estate facts and the basis calculations for investments. We even included pages for obituaries. As I suggested a few columns ago, if you want your obituary done right, write it yourself. At least you know the the correct information: dates, times and places.
This workbook became part of a program that Philip and I gave for years at the Retired Judges’ Conference. This book is still sold by the California Judges Association. You can find similar workbooks online.
Our classes were always well-received by the judges and their spouses or partners. We were surprised to learn how many of those present had not had these discussions. For some, the thought of death was hard to discuss. For some with multiple marriages and blended families, it was a potentially hot topic. For some, it was just putting it off for tomorrow. We had to remind everyone of some basic realities about life and death. When the grim reaper catches up with you, it is smart to be prepared.
Even with the work involved and these private issues mentioned, most of our audiences were pleased that a workbook would open up the door to conversation. I noticed a sense of relief from some. Finally, they could take care of business. We planted an important seed in their minds and maybe today, in yours, too.
All you have to do is pour the coffee, sit down at the kitchen table and make your lists. It might take an afternoon to find the information but it needs to be done correctly. When finished, put it in a safe place so you can find it next year. As a reminder, put a notation on your January 2017 calendar so this will become a yearly habit.
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Just recently, I learned about a new modern twist to planning. How would you like to be the master of ceremonies at your own memorial service? No, this is not another ghost column (but I have recently learned about some new ghostly happenings that I will share in a future column).
Many funeral receptions and memorial services have photographs, slideshows and memorabilia displayed of the person being celebrated. My suggestion takes a “Celebration of Life” a step further. It is a positive gift that you can give to your family and friends.
We recently attended a celebration of life for Tom Young. Tom was Napa’s leading Master of Ceremonies for years. He was the owner of the KVON radio stations and well known for his contributions to Napa and his humor and quick wit. My husband used to joke that you should never give the microphone to Tom, as you would have a hard time getting it back.
Well, Tom had the last laugh. He was the Master of Ceremonies at his own memorial service. Only Tom Young could have orchestrated and directed his life show.
To present this program, the family called upon a local expert with top computer skills, The Techno Wizard, Sam Slaughter. After Tom’s wife, Ita, passed away, Sam helped prepare a program for her memorial service. Tom decided that he wanted to do something similar, but he wanted to narrate it himself.
Tom and his children collected photographs that spanned his life. Sam worked for many hours cleaning up old photographs, providing the background music and recording Tom’s narration of the story of the Young families’ life. The result was unique and wonderful.
Tom was not visible but his voice described all we saw with his usual wit. The large audience enjoyed his funny comments and jokes with each scene. It was very moving and we felt like Tom was right there with us. What a gift for his family and the large audience at his memorial service.
At the reception, many said they thought Tom’s presentation of his life made him the star of the day. A number of guests said they would like to copy this idea for themselves and their family. Tom Young’s memorial service is one we will always remember. We thank the Young family and Sam Slaughter for giving us Tom Young back for those 12 minutes.
So, in addition to writing your own obituary, you might consider being the Master of Ceremonies at your own memorial service. What a chance to lighten the burden of your departure for your family and friends.