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Eye of the Storm
Putting Things in Order

By Joe Greenwood

February 2000

My grandmother passed away very recently, and the whole experience has shed some new light on the importance of preparing for my death. Not in a morbid sense, mind you, but in a practical way. You see, my grandmother left everything to my grandfather, and he has Alzheimer's disease, and has had to move in with my father in Florida. Their house in Indiana has to be sold now, along with their car, furniture and most of their possessions. The ones that my family isn't squabbling over, that is.

The problem is that my grandmother left no directions as to who should get what, and my grandfather is completely unable to help. My dad and stepmother are up in Indiana as I write this, trying to figure out what is valuable and what is junk. And to complicate matters even further, my aunt and her son are going to meet them there with a U-Haul so they can get their grubby little hands on anything they think my father won't notice them taking. I don't envy my dad's position right now.

I've been able to stay out of it for the most part; outside of a couple of mementos and a set of dishes, there's nothing of my grandmother's that I need to have. My dependence on such material things has decreased, too. (Well, most material things. I'd just die without my comic books, my Barbie collection and my autographed picture of George Clooney!) But watching what my folks have had to go through has made me realize that I really need to "get my things in order" before it's time for me to pass to the Great Beyond. I'd hate to think of my dad having to go through all of this again with no help from me.

I mean, I'm no millionaire, but I do have a few collector's items that I want to make sure get passed on to people who would appreciate them, and if I don't take the time to put something official down on paper, I can just see my brothers arguing over who gets all my Batman stuff. And there are some sentimental things that I want to make sure my mom has to remember me by. The more I think about it, the more ashamed I feel that I haven't written a will already.

I guess, like a lot of people, I just hate dealing with that "death stuff." The thought of sitting down and dividing up my possessions just reminds me that the HIV is still hanging over my head, waiting for its chance to pounce. I can hear my father saying, "You know, Joe, everyone needs to have a will and living will -- none of us know what will happen tomorrow." Yeah, dad, I know. But I guess I've spent so much time trying to avoid dying that I don't want to get near anything that even vaguely smacks of it. It's hard to just detach myself from it all.

The other side of the coin, however, is that wills and living wills give us control over our futures, even from beyond the grave. I've heard some people say that planning their funerals to the last detail and dividing up all of their property gives them a great feeling of comfort. And living wills make sure that hospitals won't keep you on machines for years, making paupers out of your family members. There's no doubt that they're both good ideas, whether you have a terminal illness or not.

I suppose it's high time I practiced what I preach to everyone else. I'll find some time in the next month or so to catalog all of my possessions and decide who they should go to. It really feels creepy to me. But it will be hard enough on my family when my time to go comes along. It'll be a lot easier for them if I've made some of the hard decisions ahead of time. And it does appeal to the control freak part of me.

So what about you? Have you thought about putting your things in order?

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