Chelsea walking on the beach in Long View Washington
Through Buddhism, Chelsea is Learning to Accept the Inevitable
As told to Pam Mandel
A few years ago I started studying Buddhism. That prompted me to think differently about death. Generally, Buddhists believe that by understanding death and familiarizing oneself with it, we can better prepare for it and let go of our fear. When we recognize how precious and short life is, we’re more likely to live life meaningfully and with compassion.
Death is a natural part of life; it’s the one thing we can all count on. It can truly happen at any time. As humans, we don’t want to think about that, we don’t want to go there.
The more I’ve come to terms with death from a philosophical and spiritual standpoint, internally, the more I’ve wanted to prepare for it externally. For myself, but also, for my loved ones. What can I do now? What would happen after I left? Do I feel comfortable enough making a plan for myself?
My interest in Buddhism, that’s my thing, my husband hasn’t been involved, though he’s been very supportive. That was my path. I started thinking about how we should have a will, or start talking about living wills, or at least we should know where each other’s computer passwords are. He’s been open and engaged in the process. He’s also a full time student so timing has been a little hard; we’ve haven’t got through everything yet.
At the end of 2016, my employer signed on with a new life insurance provider. There was an open enrollment period during which we both could sign up for life insurance policies without having to undergo medical exams or risk assessment. I’d already had life insurance, but this was an opportunity to get my husband insured as well. The new life insurance provider also offered will preparation services at no cost. We thought, “If we’re just given this we should take advantage.”
Having life insurance in place felt pretty good. Our New Year’s resolution was to get our computer passwords, bank accounts, our digital stuff in order. My husband has his system, I have mine, but we each know how to access each other’s systems. That felt good too.
We’re still working on a will, an advanced directive, durable power of attorney, and health care durable power of attorney. They’re a little more daunting because they’re new territory for us, but we know we just need to carve out the time to educate ourselves about them. Our plan is to make this our spring break project when my husband has time off between quarters.
The whole “getting over” having a will …I don’t know, having a will has always seemed so grown up and adult. We don’t have a lot of valuable stuff, we don’t own property, we don’t have kids. For the longest time we thought we didn’t need a will because if something happened to one of us – or both of us – there wouldn’t be a lot to deal with. And in Washington State, our understanding has been that the default if you’re married, if there’s no will, everything defaults to the spouse.
We’ve thought that as long we’re living here in Washington and we don’t have a lot of stuff, as long as we don’t have kids, it’s not really that big of a deal. But now I think, “You know what? Yes. A plan would be a good thing to have.”
Especially around health care. We both have our own ideas about what we want in our living wills. If something did happen to one of us, if we weren’t in the capacity to make decisions for ourselves, the other would know what to do. But it just seems smart to have it documented. If we can manage this ourselves and take the burden off of others to have to make decisions about our health care, why not?
My father passed away unexpectedly in 2008, he had a stroke and about a week later, he passed. He and my mom had wills, insurance, finances—pretty much everything—organized and in place. But his death was so unexpected. Even with documents and finances in place, there was still a lot to do, a lot of decisions that had to be made in a time when we were all grieving and in shock. I remember my mom saying how grateful she was that Dad had been so organized with things – there could have been so much more to have to deal with. A few months later, she sent me a copy of her durable power of attorney for health care and her advance directive. “Keep it in an envelope. We don’t need to talk about it, but just know it’s here.” I think she wanted it to be taken care of in case someone else end up in her position.
There are people who are afraid to talk about death, but conversations about it are so important. I’m thankful that my studies in Buddhism have helped me understand how beneficial such conversations can be.
Being able to talk about death, our deaths, the deaths of our loved ones… the more comfortable we can get with having this conversation, the better.
It’s nice to have these talks with people you care about, with people who feel comfortable sharing. It’s really valuable. With my husband and I – it’s weird to say it -- but the conversations have been kind of fun. “Wow, I’ve known you for ten years and I get to learn something new about you.”
Learn more about wills and living wills