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Handbook for Mortals : Planning For Uncertainty

If no one can know when you will die, that doesn't really get you "off the hook" in dealing with dying. It just makes the job a little complicated. What would you do if you knew that Uncle Sam was going to draft you with only a few days' warning, but you did not know when the notice would come? You would probably try to visit family and friends, wrap up business affairs, and write some long letters to leave for loved ones in case you were gone long or were killed. You might also find that you were especially sensitive to the joys of nature and family, and especially eager to heal old rifts and wrongs.

You can approach your uncertainty about dying in this way. No one can tell you whether this Thanksgiving is going to be your last one, but why not make it special anyway! Just because you might live another few years is no excuse not to tape record (or video record) some stories and advice for grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Everyone has some rift among family or friends. Just having a serious illness is enough reason to re-establish contact. You don't have to wait until later.

"Wait," you may say, "it will be embarrassing to do all this and then hang on! What if I find my brother and we hug and forgive one another, and then I am still here, weighing on him some years later? Or what if I tell my granddaughter that my mother's silver pin is hers when I die, but I don't die?"

Surely you will see that it is really fine to have reconnected as a family, and that the heirlooms can wait. The profound sense of impropriety that demands that you die "on a schedule" and do things in just the right order is really silly. Do things that are important just because you are a mortal who will die someday, and you know it. You probably cannot "put your affairs in order" and then live for a few years without some affairs becoming disorderly. Don't worry. It is a job that can be redone periodically.

When you have a serious illness, you may not be able to count on having a short time when you are "dying, " when friends and family can gather and say farewells. You may have to take the opportunities that you create to do what is important, despite the uncertainty. It is, after all, better to have told people that you love them more than once than to have missed the opportunity while waiting for just the right moment.

Practice, practice, practice

If you have episodes of being really quite sick, you and your loved ones might look on them as rehearsals. If you had died, what would have been left undone? What goodbyes would have not been said? What business would have been left unfinished? What goals would not have been met? You do not have to begin every day anxiously wondering if it will be your last. But you can take advantage of these rehearsals to be sure that you have done what you most want to do in the time you have.

To learn more about the book "Handbook for Mortals" click here.