Diana talks about directives, part 13

April 6, 2012

Lisa Newburger, L.I.S.W.-S./a.k.a. Diana Directive provides humorous ways to deal with difficult topics. Check out Diana’s webpage at www.discussdirectives.com.

I can’t believe it’s O-V-E-R. My cell phone rang at 7 a.m. Groggy, I grunted, “What?” A nurse at Sunny Acres Nursing and Recreational Facility said, “Diana, you need to get over here right away.” I thought, here we go again. Mom must be having a fit because she’s wearing pants with an elastic waist. She HATES dressing like an old lady. I can’t blame her. But look at who’s dressing her. Those nurse’s aides have absolutely no style. Have you seen the clothes they wear?

OK, fine! I raced over to the nursing home, and the receptionist looked at me and turned away. What was that about? I know she’s not in my fan club, but come on. I’d be willing to help her with her fashion faux pas. Elaine, my favorite nurse, hustled me into the nurse’s station. “Diana, your mom died a couple of hours ago. Her heart just stopped.”

What was she talking about? I ran into mom’s room, and there she was, silent. I tiptoed over to the bed, but she wasn’t breathing. Standing there, I just stared. Her chest wasn’t moving. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, she can’t be dead. She can’t be dead. She’s my mom. She never got to see me marry a doctor and now she’ll never be able to tell me that she’s proud of me. What am I going to do?”

Elaine called my dad, but couldn’t reach him. Yep, that sounds like Dad. He hasn’t been much help since this whole ordeal started. He thought that this would give him the freedom to travel all over the world so he could go golfing in exotic locales.

I told Elaine I’d take care of everything, but where to start? What to do? Elaine brought the social worker to meet with me to help me figure things out. I called Mom’s minister. She wasn’t a religious woman, but she believed in belonging to a church even though she never attended services.

Then I called my best friend Bruce to meet me at the Vendeland Cooper Funeral Home. When I got there, Justin, the funeral director, gave me a tour. As Bruce and I walked through the building, I felt like I was in a state of shock. She can’t really be dead. I NEED my mom in my life. Who will appreciate the good sales at Nordstrom’s? Who will hound me to find a man and become a lady of leisure? I can’t believe she’s gone.

Luckily, mom had already made her funeral plans, so very few decisions needed to be made. She died on Monday. Wednesday we had an open casket and a showing from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Then on Thursday we met at 8 a.m. for prayers and to close the casket at the funeral home. We got into the limo and drove to St. George’s Church. At 10 a.m., the church service began and lasted one hour. Then we took the funeral procession to the cemetery. We decided to hand out red roses to everyone so they could throw them onto the casket. It might have been a waste of money, but Mom would have liked that. From there, we went to Tommy’s Restaurant for lunch.

I’m now walking in a trance. Thank goodness Mom had all these plans in place. That was a real gift. Well, let’s be honest. She had a smart attorney who encouraged her to take care of all this stuff. Am I going to wake up and this nightmare will be over? I even want her to snap at me with her usual controlling demeanor. But I’m not waking up. I’m walking around and crying. (Note to self, buy waterproof mascara for funerals. Looking like a raccoon just didn’t appeal to me.)

What did I learn from this experience? Would it be to have your parents make burial arrangements ahead of time? That is a question worth asking them. But I did learn a few things I want to share with you. Here are the steps to take to get you through the first few days after a death.

Step 1: Notify family and friends of the death. Allow people to come and be with you as you go through this process. Delegate everything you can.
Step 2: Arrange the funeral with your clergy and funeral home.
Step 3: Place an obituary in the newspaper.
Step 4: Call your loved one’s attorney and financial planner for guidance.

After the funeral, and when you’re ready to address it, you need to obtain copies of the death certificate. The funeral home can help you with this. You also need to locate all estate planning documents, financial information, and insurance policies. Social security will also need to be notified.

One suggestion — do not remove things from safety deposit boxes, the bank, or home. There is no rush to close out accounts. A lawyer can guide you through this process whether a will exists or not. Upon death, the most important thing for you to do is grieve. These other issues can wait. Reach out to your friends and support system and delegate as many details as possible. For example, make a list of your friends and family and have someone make the calls for you. Or, post it on Facebook if that is how you prefer to communicate. Be aware that the rituals surrounding funerals are for the grieving family. You are not alone.

Always feel free to email me at [email protected].

Editor's Note: To read past installments of "Diana Directive," please click here.