Sara Beth Berman is a writer and experiential educator living and working in New York City. She is finishing her first book, a memoir about love, loss, and hilarity. Find her on Kveller, Alma, Instagram and Twitter for beautiful realness, educational wonder, occasional rants, and reflections on being an unwedded widow.
“No,” I pointed out during a conversation with an old friend. “I haven’t tagged a significant other in Facebook posts in a long time.” It was true – years have passed since I was comfortable tagging a boyfriend on social media. I paused, and kept on, “Well, only posts about my deceased fiance. But I don’t tag him. You know, because I think that’s weird.”
Most of my friends are surprised when I think something is weird, or when I identify something as a boundary. I’m more known for my bluntness, my openness, my “oversharing” – although I think I’m just being transparent. I believe that my openness is instructive. It helps people navigate their own complicated journeys with loss and grief. So I keep on, ignoring the critics and holding the grateful recipients in my heart, as I hit “POST.” I know I might make you cry, but that’s good – it’s mortality awareness, after all.
What do I wish others will get from my posts? Or rather – how do I feel the work that I’m doing with my “oversharing” is instructive?
First, make sure you go to the doctor regularly. And don’t just go to the doctor, advocate for your care. Get referrals for specialists. Get regular checkups and push back if you (or, say, your fiance) think that somebody may be missing something. Advocate for health care rights with your representatives, while you’re at it.
Second, is your paperwork in order?
What in the world are you waiting for?
Listen, I’m saying this because I care.
Are you listening?
I’ll wait, if you want to grab a pen or open your notes app or a draft email.
OK. Now that you’re ready – Let’s talk paperwork. I’m not talking like a do not resuscitate (DNR) order, although that’s part of it. I’m talking about all of the stuff you have to get in order: your will, your living will, your durable power of attorney, your healthcare proxy, your bank accounts and stock portfolios and your deed to your house and to your car and the key to your safe deposit box and your instructions on what you’d like to happen to your collection of vintage chamber pots / 18th Century Romantic poetry anthologies / vintage typewriters. To your offspring. I’m talking about what you want on your tombstone. How you want to be treated, alongside medical treatment, in the hospital (I’ve made it VERY clear how I feel about my facial hair, for example). Who gets those amazing diamond earrings you bought after you got your first big, grown up job. Where do you want to go if you’re going to need short-term rehabilitation care? Long-term care? If you’re in a chronic vegetative state, and if you want to remain that way. If you slowly deteriorate mentally. If you die suddenly in a terrible accident.
Do you feel kind of queasy thinking about all of this?
Good. This means that you’re ready to put this on paper. If it didn’t disturb you, you would just shake it off and leave your family and friends to clean up the mess left in your tragic wake. If it’s never disturbed you before now, same thing – there will still be a tragic wake – except now you know better, so you don’t have to leave that mess. You’re better than that now.
Third, decide who you needs to hear your wants, wishes, and needs. Like on social media, it won’t do you any good to talk to my deceased fiance, but it certainly will do every person good to talk to family members. Living significant others and best friends. Your “person” – whomever that may be. Your estate attorney. Your children-in-law.
And finally, if all of the cool kids were notarizing living wills with lawyers and discussing it with their family members over matcha lattes, would you do it, too? It’s certainly more advisable than jumping out of an airplane (something I definitely shouldn’t have done without discussing my end-of-life wishes with my poor, beleaguered parents. Sorry, parents.). This is a Conversation Project for a reason. Because having the conversation is vital. Because my social media posts bring awareness to mortality. Because that awareness should make you feel for your family and friends.
Because if I’ve learned anything from my suffering it’s that there are places where each of us, as individuals, can make the suffering suck slightly less. And isn’t that the least we can do?