By Jim Bloch
“The end of life is a stage of life,” says Amy Levine in her new book “Final Wishes.”
Levine, a 1976 graduate of Albion College who now lives in New Jersey, is an end-of-life consultant.
“We all want to be seen, known, and heard at all stages of life,” Levine says.
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We share our daily dreams and dreads with friends and family. But we are far less forthcoming about our own deaths, what are wishes are and what we want people to know about us.
“I represent what many people want to forget — the fact that we are mortal,” says Levine, discussing her work with people as they approach death.
Her book is structured like a workbook or a journal, complete with prompts for your own entries. If you follow her guidelines, you will be the lead writer of your own book of final wishes.
Levine lays out a recipe for how to make known your last wishes regarding your financial and personal affairs. She offers resources and documents needed to help you draft an advance plan. She asks readers to list their health care representatives, attorneys, last will and testament, a compendium of passwords and a directory of key contacts, essentially those people and organizations you weave together to form the fabric of your life.
“Here is your opportunity to ensure you are known, seen and heard, now and then,” Levine says. “Those you entrust to care for you will be grateful not to have to guess your end-of-life wishes. It will ensure peace of mind for you and for those you leave behind.”
Considering the unconsidered
Levine prompts readers to catalogue their personal information — date of birth, address, next of kin, emergency contacts.
She recognizes the depth of each individual life and asks readers to write about personal issues, such as how they ended up with their names.
What do you wish you had known or asked of friends or family members who died? What do you do to have fun? Do you have a memory of a secret treasure? What does money mean to you? What was or would be your ideal vacation? Talk about your memory of a sick day home from school, an item you lost, or a party you loved. Describe items that bring you joy and why. What did you wish for as a child?
Answering these questions makes the business of getting ready for your own death rewarding, if not fun. Doing Levine’s exercises may give participants a new or renewed appreciation for the lives they have lived.
She interlaces rather arid list-making — banks, investments companies, mortgage firms, retirement benefits, insurance companies — with poignant stories from her own life and experiences.
In “Counting Stars,” she reflects upon an accountant whose boyhood fascination with the night sky becomes in the final moments of his life a series of planets and stars zooming through his window. “I just saw Jupiter,” he says.
Possessions are just things. But they come to represent the most meaningful aspects of life. Your grandmother’s maple table. A piece of bleached coral plucked from the bottom of a bay while snorkeling in St. John. The photo of your spouse at age 10, surprised at the sudden appearance of a camera.
But your most important objects are not necessarily obvious to others.
Levine suggests that you inventory your possessions and provides room-by-room prompts. She asks you to consider the fate of your things after you’ve departed. She offers a separate section for especially meaningful items — collector pieces, books, artwork, sculpture.
Planning your own funeral or memorial and writing your own obituary can insure that your last formal appearances in this world are what you want. Proper planning relieves relatives of staging an event when they may not be fully aware of your wishes.
Levine offers checklists for planning your own final events. Burial or cremation? What kind of flowers, music, readings, photos, food or headstone? Do you want an obituary or to suggest donations to your favorite charity?
She includes a section to record little-known facts about yourself that may cast you in a new light in the eyes of others.
As the book wraps up, Levine asks you to reflect what life has taught you, what’s important to you, your values, your most important experiences. She suggests organizing them by decade — your 20s, 30s, etc. What about your work and your jobs? How do you cope during hard times?
What do you hope for your friends, family, colleagues, community and the world in the future?
What do you want others to know of the things you value or find true?
Levine sprinkles the book with quotes that may help readers think about their lives.
Mae West, for example, observes: “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
The book, published by Rock Point in New York, is available through Amazon. The hardcover price is $16.99.
“Ultimately, this book is all about you,” Levine says. It represents a “chance to reflect on who you are and how you want to be remembered.”
Jim Bloch is a freelance writer based in St. Clair, Michigan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.