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Sunday 21 Jul 2024

Planning Your Exit
Hilary Thompson

In an episode of The Simpsons, C. E. D’oh, Homer takes a class, “How to Succeed in Being You.” The episode aired on 16 March 2003. The course gives him a new outlook.

A new way of life.

After a slick-talking grifter sells him a step-by-step book called Megatronics, Homer sets out to become a millionaire overnight. The first step of the book instructs him to “Live Each Day Like It Was Your Last.” So, naturally, Homer spends the first day sobbing and shouting to the heavens, “I don’t want to die.”

This scene provides a chuckle. His predicament, however, is a clever commentary on the fear of death. How a pre-occupation with death can push us to despair when we should be living.

Dying is the greatest common denominator, if the second most feared human activity. We cease to exist at some point, but it’s not as fear-inducing as public speaking. Yet, this egalitarian fact, we all pass away, hasn’t resulted in widespread attitudes of acceptance in the West.

Instead, we’re expected to marshal every ounce of strength we have to rail against death. Yet, an unending battle with the Grim Reaper can easily turn into denial of the inevitable. It can rob us of precious time and distract us from the things that matter. Worse, we may simply collapse into despair, as did Homer.

Death is more complicated, but it’s not either or; it’s must. It is possible to accept the inevitable without falling into despair. It’s also possible to fight without losing focus on what’s important.

In short, there are effective ways to get the best of both worlds while you’re still here. So, whether you’ve got six years or six months, here are five ways to make the most of the time you have. Heed each one.

Downsize; it’s time to clean house, literally. Although you need a place to live and probably a car, much of what’s left is probably baggage at this point. Facing mortality makes it easier to view the Slap Chop or Thighmaster as items you didn’t need in the first place.

Don’t stop with the infomercial fare. Strip your new life down to its bare minimum.  The rule of thumb for stuff management is if you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it.

Sell rarely used furniture. Donate items to charity or directly to those in need. Recycle your old electronics.

Emptying your home of unneeded items makes it easier to maintain and make room for the things you need, such as friends and family. Decluttering will de-stress your loved ones, too. Remember, someone will have to deal with all your stuff after you’re gone. Even if you don’t feel up to cleaning house for yourself, do it for your friends and family. They have lives to live, too. 

Making amends is a powerful way to unburden yourself from guilt at the end of your life. Righting wrongs and mending relationships create a sense of closure. This makes it easier to let go.

Saying you’re sorry is hard.

Not everyone is up to the task, however. Saying you’re sorry is hard. Pride often gets in the way. People fear reopening old wounds. Maybe they want to clear things up face-to-face and distance is a problem. These are all obstacles you can overcome.

Make a list of the people you want to whom you wish to apologize, not the people from whom you want an apology. Go into it not expecting them to admit their part. Making amends isn’t about the other person’s actions; it’s about yours.

Focus on your mistakes, articulate your regrets. Let it go at that. If you're not willing to do that, don't attempt reconciliation.   

Relaxation techniques, such as physical exercise and mindfulness or meditation, can help with pain management, improve focus and mental clarity. If you can exercise, try yoga. If you can’t give music therapy a shot.

Experts suggest low volume music and soft lighting is soothing for patients nearing their final moments. Music evokes pleasing memories.

It also helps cover distracting noises made by medical equipment and hospital staff. Aromatherapy is also a common approach to relaxing the mind and body. Deep breathing exercises help improve blood flow, increase energy levels, and improves digestion. 

Pain and anxiety make these alternative methods impossible or ineffective. If so, don’t forego medications for homeopathic solutions. If you’re in discomfort and these strategies don’t help, ask for medications.

There’s nothing heroic about suffering needlessly. The point of relaxing is to make the most of the time you have left. If that time is spent in constant pain, then it’s foolish suffering. 

Prepare family and friends if you and your physicians are sure your time is limited. For loved ones, watching you go is difficult. Those who visit can feel helpless, not knowing what to say or do to make things better.

To avoid such circumstances, some family members and friends may opt to stop visiting you. They will begin grieving your loss before you are gone. Their absence will make it harder to share memories, make amends, and find closure for your life.

Help prepare loved ones by telling them you’re okay with what is happening. Explain that you’re not ready, but you’ve accepted it as a normal part of living. Your acceptance will make it easier for them to let you go when it’s time.

Planning your own funeral may seem macabre, but it can help you feel in control. When you’re in control, you’re less anxious. Less anxiety helps make the time you have more enjoyable.

Finalise your funeral arrangements and decide how others may celebrate your life. Do you want a solemn occasion, a party or nothing? Select your burial outfit. Do you want a burial or cremation; flowers or donations. Maybe you want a second service, such as scattering your ashes at a favourite fishing spot. While you’re at it, update your advance directive and decide on organ donation or not.

Overseeing your final arrangements is probably the last thing you will have full control over, so give it the attention it deserves. Don’t just wave it off as another thing that needs to be done. Your family will feel better if they know they’re carrying out your wishes and not just guessing.

Homer reminds us humour always fits. So, leave them laughing.

The above allusion to Homer Simpson is more than a funny anecdote. It’s a reminder that humour is also how we keep from falling into despair. To cope with death, humans have always turned to tickling the funny bone. We write gallows humor and black comedies because laughter lets us exercise our free will against the final force that takes us all. Humour is the final D’oh we shout into the face of death as confirmation we were here.

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Hilary Thompson is an active freelance writer, on the environment and business. She is a mother of two. She runs on coffee and fumes.

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