“Death may be the greatest of all human blessings”– Socrates
Sometimes you just can’t make shit up.
A friend of mine, who I will call, “Claire”, called me up a few months ago and said, “Shelley, I want you to put me in the wall.”
I asked Claire, “What do you mean?”. She said, “You know I’ve had cancer for 15 years. It’s all throughout my body and there is no more treatment left for me to do. I’m tired, and I’m in so much pain! I can’t live like this anymore. I’m done! I’m going to schedule it for October or November, and I want you to put me in the wall.”
I’m not sure if you know this, but in California, The California End of Life Option Act went into effect on June 9th, 2016. It authorizes the compassionate option of medical aid in dying for terminally ill adults to get a prescription they can take to end their life peacefully. Governor Newsom signed California’s Senate Bill 380, improving the End of Life Act (and removing the previous sunset provision), on October 5, 2021. The bill went into effect on January 1, 2022.
This was my first experience with this.
She purchased a crypt in a wall at the cemetery. “Everything has been paid for at the cemetery,” she went on to say. “All you would have to do is contact them and let them know who you are. I’ve taken care of everything. If there’s any money left over, I want you to have it.”
Well, most people would probably freak out. To me, it was part of my world of requests, when someone is terminally ill or dying.
She was getting all her affairs in order and was going to donate ALL of her money to a local university. Sh The ALL part was reiterated. Claire never married, nor had any children, and she wanted to make her life and death simple. She believed giving money to people ruins their lives, and so her philosophy held true to her word, donating every penny to this university. $60 million worth.
Claire went on to tell me that she wanted ME and ONLY me at the burial site, with no chapel, no service, no rabbi, no flowers, no prayer books, NOTHING. She had an estranged sister and a couple of nephews and didn’t want them there either. In fact, she didn’t even want an obituary. “I don’t want anyone else to be there, but you. Will you do it?” I said, “Of course, I will do it. It would be my honor to honor you in any way you want.”
Last Friday morning while I was in a Zoom meeting, I saw that she called. I didn’t think much of it since she and I have spoken many times for several months. She always loved the work I did, and was always complimentary. She connected me with people she knew that could use my services as a life coach, speaker, and death midwife.
As I said, I figured I would call her back. I hadn’t listened to the message until AFTER my Zoom call. When I hit voicemail, I heard her say,
“Hi Shelley, I just wanted you to know that I’m “going” TOMORROW at 9 am. Please don’t call me back, I don’t have the energy to talk. I love you and thank you for taking care of what I asked you to do.”
Well, I heard the message and immediately texted her, “Oh honey, okay, I want you to know I love you, and I want to wish you a happy journey, wherever you are going, and I will do whatever you want me to do.”
The message was never returned. She never got that message because she didn’t have a cell phone. Duh!
Flash forward to 6:30 pm Friday night. I’m on the way to the Hollywood Bowl in a car with three other people driving to see the Gypsy Kings. Everyone was talking and laughing, and I saw that she was calling on my phone. I had to pick it up, so I picked it up, and she told me the same thing she said in the message. I wished her a wondrous journey wherever she was going. Then I told her I loved her, and I hoped that she could feel that, and that if she could, to send me a sign. I assured her I would follow her wishes and take care of everything. She felt happy and relieved.
I got off the phone and had to share what had just happened with my friends in the car. They were pretty freaked out about it, and I stayed calm.
I’m telling you just can’t make this up! I felt like I was in a sitcom.
The following day, I had a first date with “Alan”, a man I met years before at a conference where I was speaking. For years, we never actually saw each other in person, but corresponded here and there. We had attempted to get together for several months. With Bruce dying, Aminu dying, and me in the ER with my heart thing, I kept postponing our “date”. So I finalized the date to take a drive up to Santa Barbara for lunch. But, it was THAT Saturday, the very same day my friend decided to die.
We got to Santa Barbara and after leaving the Visitor’s Center, we began walking down the street looking for a great restaurant nearby.
Just as we were leaving the center, I got a text from the girl who was with Claire when she died.
The text read: “Hi Shelley, this is “Nancy” Claire’s friend, “Can you call me when you see this message? She passed away this morning and I believe you are the durable power of attorney. I’ll call you right back. The cell reception is bad. Moving to a new spot.”
Well, you can imagine. I put my finger up to my new friend and said, “Could you give me a moment, I have to make a call.” I told him about what happened.
I called Nancy back and she told me the mortuary needed to speak with me right away and gave me the number. Another finger went up to Alan and I said, “just another moment”. I spoke to the mortuary, and they said they needed to call the authorities unless there was a hospice nurse nearby.
I immediately called Nancy back, and she said the hospice nurse was on her way and would be there in about an hour and a half. PHEW! Thank God! That would make it easy. I called the mortuary back and told them they didn’t have to call the authorities, and that the hospice nurse was on her way.
Believe me when I tell you, you do NOT want the authorities to come when someone dies at home. It is not fun.
Reminder: If you have someone dying at home, ALWAYS always, always have hospice.
This will make after-death care so much easier to manage because you do not want the police or fire department to come and investigate the death. It takes away the sacredness of someone’s life with the authorities investigating to see if there was foul play involved. It will create a horrible situation and will not give you the peace you want when someone you love has died. You want hospice under all circumstances.
Luckily, the hospice nurse arrived, and everything worked out.
I then called Nancy back, holding up another finger to Alan, and said I needed to be another minute or so. The phone calls continued, and I kept holding up my finger to say, “just a moment”. He was very patient and understanding with what I was handling, and a very good sport. Thank you, Alan, if you’re reading this.
I asked Nancy if she had ever been with anyone who has ever died before, and she said no. I asked her how it went and she said, “Well, I thought it would be peaceful and silent, but it wasn’t.” I asked her what happened, and she said Claire’s body began to shake and throw up and that it was horrible. I felt so badly for her. I told her if I knew that it was her first time being with someone who died. I would have given her a heads-up. We never really know what to expect, for the most part.
Alan and I continued on our sojourn and had a delicious lunch.
Thank God, it was at the end of our lunch that I got another phone call from Nancy. I asked her to call me when the mortuary would arrive to pick up her body.
I got the call in the car as we were driving back home. We did manage to take a nice walk along the pier, and it was a beautiful day! I couldn’t walk far since the doctor had told me to take it easy. He said to not exercise or walk too much until he could find out what was going on with my heart.
While driving back, I got the call from Nancy and was on Facetime with her and the mortuary. She was tending to the details of Claire’s after-death care.
I was able to handle most of it that day and the following day. But, I had an appointment to speak with the cemetery representative to make the arrangements for a private service with myself the following Sunday.
I’m telling you just can’t make this shit up.
Life is such a ride, such a journey, such an adventure! Make the most of your life NOW. Get your affairs in order, and do your Advance Medical Directive and Death Care Directive.
Take care of all of that NOW before your last breath.
Your family and loved ones will have enough to face, just your loss, but not knowing what you wanted or how to handle anything or where anything is, creates even more stress.
If I had a sitcom, this episode would definitely be in it.
So, the following Sunday rolls around, and I arrive at the cemetery at 9:45 am, ready to put Claire in the wall at 10:00 am. To my surprise, her sister, sister-in-law, and nephew show up. The cemetery had been told to have it as a private service, but somehow, her family found out she died and was having a service. I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want to be the funeral police, and I wanted to respect what Claire wanted.
I asked the funeral director to ask them to stay outside the area where we were putting her in the wall so that it would be just me and her. I had never met Claire’s sister, nor did I know why they were estranged. The pallbearers carried Claire to the wall, and everyone left me alone with my friend.
I sat next to her before they raised the casket up to her crypt and said my goodbyes and my well wishes for a beautiful journey, wherever she went.
After they raised the casket and put her in the wall, I walked back to my car and stopped when I saw her sister and family. I told them that Claire had asked me to be the only one with her, and I didn’t mean to disrespect them, but I promised Claire and I wanted to respect that. They understood. I said I was sorry for their loss and didn’t understand the family dynamic. They asked me about her estate, and I told them I didn’t have any information about that, gave them a hug, and went to my car.
I think they felt some closure, so everyone got some part of what they needed. I’m not sure if they realized that they would never see not one penny from the $60 million she was leaving to the University.
People have their ways and their desires and their preferences. Who was I to judge her? I had no idea of their relationship, but what I did know is that Claire had her ideas of what she wanted and was a strong force to be reckoned with.
That is the third death experienced over the last month.
You just never know! I say, live life to the fullest, be ready to “go” at any given moment, and I promise you your last breath is going to be filled with blessings.
As for me, I’m facing some interesting anomalies in my heart I never knew existed. The story continues.
Just want to say, like I always say, “It’s your life. Enjoy the journey. And remember to bring love into everything you do!”