Imagine going to the courthouse, bank, or hospital for one of the life events that we associate with being a grown-up. Amongst the pile of paperwork you receive from the clerk, you’re handed yet another sheet of paper. Perhaps you’ve seen it before. In that case, it should already be familiar to you. It’s the end-of-life checklist: a list of generic questions for you to fill out in your own time (Burial, cremation, or an alternative? Do you want a DNR? Who should have power of attorney if something happens? What kind of finances should you set aside to provide ahead of time?). Or not…you’ll see this list again the next time you go to the social security office, get a marriage license, register a birth certificate, renew your license. Eventually the questions will become so familiar that you already know them just from glancing at the sheet of paper. Your responses become like second nature.
Checklists pervade all aspects of life in the modern world. They’re familiar tools, and their familiarity can make us feel comfortable discussing topics that we might otherwise avoid. More than a list of questions that require answers, this checklist is to get you and your loved ones talking. One of the worst things about grief is all of the decisions that rain down in one felt swoop. Let’s think about those answers now when you’re making your other life plans, before the stakes get too high.
The first steps of this project are to identify the actions that we associate with the world of the grown-up in our society, and to isolate where those actions take place. This varies from group to group and person to person, so thinking broadly is paramount. The second step is to come up with questions for the checklist. These questions have a difficult task: they have to prompt thought and discussion, but they also have to frame the end of our lives as something comprehensible—the topic needs to come across as prosaic and provocative at the same time.