Death is Life


Why do we mortals behave as if we are immortal?  Whether we are a teenager and impatient for adulthood, middle-aged and at the peak of our career, or even more elderly and in great health, we all look forward to a life spread out in front of us, blurring into the distance, infinite.

A special visitor to Jamaica this week led us, gently but firmly, to the realization that we must actively, and in a practical sense, prepare for that most certain thing in life – death, which is a part of all our lives.  Yvette Taylor-Hachoose, an attorney-at-law and expert on estate planning, gave presentations to the Jamaica Fulbright Association, and to the relatively new organization, the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons, founded by Jean Lowrie-Chin.  We also traveled to the cool, green hillsides of Mandeville in central Jamaica, to the Northern Caribbean University – whose kindness and quiet hospitality was as usual deeply appreciated.

Yvette Taylor-Hachoose at Jamaica Fulbright Association
Yvette spells it out for us all, while Jamaican attorney-at-law Aloun N'Dombet Assamba listens.

Yvette had audiences of different ages and persuasions – businesspersons, students, teachers, retirees, Jamaicans who had spent years overseas and returned to spend what is euphemistically called their “golden years” on the island.  Estate planning is all about wills, and living wills, and powers of attorneys, and trusts, money, cash, property, real estate…and families.

With growing admiration, I realized that Yvette had to tiptoe through a complex web of family feuds, estranged relatives, jealousy and sibling rivalry, children known and unknown.  In Jamaica, the family structure can be rambling, dense and intricate.  Even married men can have another “family” ; there are often “outside children” on both sides; stepfathers and stepmothers can create complications.  It takes skill, tact and great humanity to navigate these potential dangers, and make sure that the hurt feelings and the pride are smoothed over.

Yvette Taylor-Hachoose at Northern Caribbean University
It's about young people too, not just the elderly...Yvette talks to two young women at Northern Caribbean University.

Several things stayed in my mind, at the end of Yvette’s visit:  something that both she and a colleague Jamaican lawyer reiterated, that estate planning is about the life we are living, now. It’s not about death at all, really.  It is about our lives, the here and now.  How we feel about our relationships, the things and people that surround us.  It is about trust, loyalty, the ties that bind us to our fellow human beings.

Yvette also talked a lot about legacy.  (What will be your legacy, and mine?)  She told a very personal and poignant story about her father, who is a veteran of the Korean War.  He was persuaded to write and publish his memoirs, after holding himself away from some painful truths that he felt unable to write about.  “We think we know everything about our parents, don’t we,” Yvette noted.  But of course, we don’t.  Her father created his legacy of courage and death-in-life through his memoirs, when he witnessed tragedy and grief beyond description as a nineteen-year-old soldier.  It is a part of him, for better or worse.  Our lives are ourselves.

A legacy is something tangible, yet with a spiritual force.  It is what we were, what we are, and what we always will be.

Family tree
Here you are. Feel your family history running through your veins. Your family has made you who you are...What will you create for the next generation?

Well, we can all start by writing a will.  And take it from there.

Book on Estate Planning by Yvette Taylor-Hachoose
A plug for Yvette's book on estate planning. Available on Amazon.com and at good bookstores!

6 thoughts on “Death is Life

  1. I found your original topic very important. I’m sorry to see that instead of going on with the difficulties of coming to terms with the inevitable, your piece turned out to be about the importance of writing a will because of family relationships. While I agree about the latter and that a will is about the here-and-now, I was surprised that no link was made between this practical bit of chores and the heaviest spiritual journey of our lives, i.e. the one to death. While I can accept your decision to focus on making wills, I was perhaps deprived of your opinion about this journey, and without warning. I can’t see the logic to shift from one to another.

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    1. Yes, I see your point. I guess I was looking at the practicalities and decided not to get too philosophical, at least not this time around. That would have to be discussed in a much longer blog post (or more than one). Perhaps I will do that. Thanks for your comments and please stay in touch!

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  2. In Turkey the inheritance laws are strictly applied regardless of what any Will says. This presents a challenge to us if the unthinkable should happen. The way around it is to have a British will and get it apostilled.

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  3. As someone who only recently joined the percentage having their wills and legal documents in order, I can appreciate both the importance of doing so and the nagging feeling that it’s all just so much work that I’ll ‘get around to it’… Now I feel relief. Next up? Figuring out plans for post-death: cremation, burial, both, neither, where, etc.

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    1. Congratulations, Linda… Yes, it is like a weight off your shoulders when it’s done (and you can always update it, of course). I think it’s one of those things that it’s the THOUGHT of doing it that is so off-putting…

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