Most young people don’t think about their own mortality. I can’t quote any scientific research to support my theory but my informal observations lead me to believe many people wait until a major life event (marriage, birth of a child, serious illness) or an emergency situation to have difficult discussions about disability or death.
I learned at a young age how important it is to make your end of life wishes known to your loved ones BEFORE you are facing imminent death. Having spent the first decade of my professional life working in nursing homes, I regularly interacted with people who had not had prior conversations about end of life care for mom, dad or themselves. I wrote my first advanced directives at age twenty-four. I completed a health care proxy the following year, and advocated for my parents and those I love to complete their own paperwork.
My aging parents are still living in the house they have owned for more than fifty years. Twelve years ago my five sisters and I honored them by coordinating a surprise 50th wedding anniversary party. There were many heated discussions and emails between the six of us about the menu and dessert list for this wonderful party. After the event, I handed my parents the health care proxy forms and told them I would prefer not to argue with my sisters about something other than a menu. I may have said something snippy, along the lines of, “I don’t care who you pick, but you must pick someone to act as your proxy in case something ever happens to you.” Two years later, when they were both injured in a car crash, we knew their wishes because we had those difficult discussions.
Making your medical wishes known is important, but how many of you have given any thought to what happens to your digital life after your physical life ends? Do you have a file of all your online or social media accounts and your passwords? Do you use a password manager to remember all your passwords so you don’t have to?
I will admit I have given very little thought to this but Thursday I read an article in my local paper describing how you can now appoint someone to manage your Facebook account when you die. I don’t know that I want my Facebook account – or any other account – to be maintained after I die. I have friends who have passed away and someone (friends? family?) must be managing their accounts because several of them are still out there in the virtual world. Should you want to explore your Facebook options, go to your “Security” page under “Settings” and look down at the bottom options for Legacy Contact. You can select to have your account automatically deleted after your death, or you can memorialize your account. Facebook describes memorialized accounts as “…a place for friends and family to gather and share memories after a person has passed away.”
At this point in my life, I think I want my social media presence to end when my life here on earth ends. My Facebook account is mine and I don’t think I want anyone close to me to have to face the burden of managing my page when I am no longer alive to manage it myself. But I can understand how sharing memories or tributes might be helpful to those coping with loss. Funeral parlors and newspaper obituary columns have been offering “legacy pages” for years on their websites. When my sister and brother-in-law died, the messages from friends, relatives, colleagues and former students were moving and heartfelt.
Since I read the article, I spent some time making notes and discovered between work and personal life, I have over twenty online accounts: Facebook; Twitter; LinkedIn; WordPress; SurveyMonkey; MailChimp; Amazon; Basecamp and many more! I knew I had a digital footprint but I never realized how big it was or thought about what would happen should I no longer be around to manage it.
So, I will be spending time this weekend updating my information, learning about password managers, and contacting those who have agreed to act on my behalf should I become incapacitated. They did well two years ago during a health crisis, and I’m confident they will manage my virtual legacy just as competently.