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It’s never too early to plan to die

Unsplash/Eyasu Etsub
Unsplash/Eyasu Etsub

Death can arrive as a slow-moving steam engine that can be heard long before a fateful switch of the tracks directs it into our path. Death can also arrive as a semi-truck running a stop sign shrouded in fog and its screaming brakes are felt as they coincide with the moment of impact. We do not know which death will greet us; we just know one day it will arrive.

Thirty plus years of practicing medicine in American hospitals, and more nascent clinics throughout Rwanda, have taught me these truths about death. We live by our calendars as we scurry from task to task. Yet, we have a death day on our calendars, and we prefer to not consider it. It may not even be in our reminders.

When we live as if tomorrow will always come, we may miss the opportunity to make today count. When we live in worry that tomorrow might not come, we also miss that same opportunity.

Consider Michael’s story. Only in his 40s, he was on dialysis and lived in constant fear. During the year and a half that I knew him, he worried incessantly about the day when dialysis would no longer be an option for him. While on the transplant waiting list to receive a new kidney, he spent his days and nights feverishly checking on the possibilities of a transplant becoming available.

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While he fretted and stressed, his life rambled out of control. He gained weight and worked less (taking jobs farther and farther from home). He would frequently complain, “This stress is killing me!”

He was wrong. On an early morning commute to work, he fell asleep and drifted into the path of an eighteen-wheeler. He died instantly. He had spent the preceding two years worrying about a future that he would never see.

Today, we can make a choice to live with the end in mind and do so in a healthy manner. We change not only our life, but the lives of those we love and one day leave behind. This is a part of our legacy. 

There are three important preparation steps to leave a legacy of peace rather than chaos.

1. Spiritual preparation is the most important step.

The confidence of knowing your destination is the confidence that dampens fear and one day overcomes this crippling emotion. I can share with you about your health and wisdom for your dying and yet still fail you if I do not share my confidence in my best death. This is my faith. My faith is a gift from God that I did not deserve or earn. I am a mere dark side of the moon who turns to reflect the Son around which I orbit. This Son of God, Jesus Christ, wants to reach your dark side so that you may enter His Heavenlies.

You may say, “How can you know what happens after that last breath? How can you state with one hundred percent confidence that what you believe is true?”

Scripture states, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” – (2 Corinthians 5:8) 

This is my faith, the absolute truth. However, the most important proof that I can share is the work of Jesus in my life. This is the work of transformation. I know who I was, and I know who I am. I can read my journals which reveal illogical occurrences which can only be explained by a living God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.

If you are unsure of your destination, begin your plan with the knowledge: “When you seek me, you will find me, when you seek me with all of your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:13

The best legacy is sharing your spiritual plan with your family and others. Your shared confidence in the destination makes all suffering tolerable, all grief finite, and all loss temporary.

2. Practical preparation equips you and your loved ones for both the steam engine and the eighteen-wheeler.

Regardless of age or health status, preparing for the inevitable is prudent. Practical planning includes planning for your health, planning for your finances, planning for your absence, and planning for your digital death.

Planning for your health is an Advanced Care Plan (ACP). This encompasses a Living Will, a Healthcare Power of Attorney, and your desires for end-of-life care.

Planning for your finances is necessary. It is best to plan for the steam engine as this slow journey towards death is statistically the most common form of dying. Estimates from the 2019 Elder Index TM, indicate 50% of those over 65 years old and living in single-family homes and 23% with two over the age of 65 will not have resources to provide for their basic needs as they age.[i]

Planning for your absence is identifying all the things you currently do that would need to be done in the event of your death. Examples would include paying bills, tax preparation, managing bank accounts, etc. Equipping your spouse, adult children, or another surrogate is a gift they may not want now but will be thankful if you are no longer able to do them.

Planning for your digital death is not something you might have considered. However, so much of our lives have digital footprints and we must consider these digital assets. The preparation for our digital death should be started now and updated frequently.

There are three important steps to take when planning for your digital death. They are:

  • Identify and inventory your digital assets.
  • Authorize a surrogate to access these assets in the event of your incapacitation or death.
  • Communicate with your surrogate your strategy.

If you are unsure of all that would be considered digital assets, I recommend visiting the website Everplans. The site has free resources in addition to a paid service for evaluation and management of digital assets.

3. Legacy preparation impacts your life and those you leave behind.

Beyond your preparation of sharing your spiritual legacy and well-planned exit legacy, you can choose to live a life of intentional legacy. This reflects a meaningful life. God has a plan for your life and when you live with intention, His plans are revealed.

His word states, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – (Romans 8:28)

There are two qualifiers for receiving a calling of divine origin. The first is loving Him. This is not a casual love or a love that takes second place to your love for your spouse, or your children. It is your first love which defines your relationship with Jesus Christ. It is your defining point of a before and after. In Greek, this word is agapao or the verb form of the noun, agape. It is a love that esteems. This love brings you to your knees in reverence to a God whose mercy is endless, and you are its unworthy recipient. Nothing has, does, or will compare.

The second qualifier is that you are called according to His purpose. His purpose for those who love him is to reflect the image of Christ. The more you do so with your thoughts, your words, and your actions, the more you reflect His purpose. Living a life for Him and through Him is the abundant life you are promised.

Jesus spoke, “The thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”.

When you pursue this abundant life of relationship with Christ, you are living your legacy while you have breath and will leave it long after your breaths have ceased.

Planning for dying through spiritual preparation, practical preparation, and legacy preparation equips you for the expected and the unexpected. It can comfort the soul in the dark hours of the night. It leads to a meaningful life and death. Such are the endings of a well-planned life.

[i]Elder Index. (2021). The Elder Index™ [Public Dataset]. Boston, MA: Gerontology Institute, University of Massachusetts Boston. Retrieved from

Dr. Pamela Prince Pyle is a Board-Certified Internal Medicine physician who studied at Oklahoma State University, North Texas Health Science Center, and completed her training at Baylor University in Houston. She was one of three physicians selected in 1992 by Carolina Health Specialists (CHS) to begin the first hospital-based internal medicine practice outside of a university setting in the United States.

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