Tag: death

Creating a connection with my mother beyond the grave

My father died when I was 7 years old. You might be surprised to learn that I don’t really miss him. Yet how can I miss someone I never really knew? Many times over the years, though, I have been curious about him. I’ve wondered what he might say to me had he still been around. I’ve wished he’d left behind a ‘Dear daughter’ letter – or even just a simple note – for me to miraculously discover one day so that I could know just how much he loved me, and carry that love (and the letter!) with me through my life. It would answer every question I ever had about him.

It never happened, of course.

Fortunately, and perhaps not surprisingly, I am very close to my mother. She is the woman I most admire in this world and the reason I work as hard as I do. I’m continually inspired by her, particularly given she recovered from not one but two bouts of breast cancer as a single mother when I was a child. Being without her on this planet is something I really don’t ever want to have to deal with, but the odds are, someday in my lifetime, I will.

In fact, not that long ago, Mum mentioned she really wanted a specific piece of music played at her own celebration of life. Having survived cancer, she’s a bit of a realist, so talking openly about her funeral plans felt shockingly matter of fact at the time! But this simple comment from her got me thinking…there was quite a bit of very crucial information about her end-of-life wishes I didn’t know. I didn’t know who she would like to have speak on the day, which music she wanted to be played, or how she wanted the day to look, or feel. Did she want to be buried or cremated? Was there somewhere special she wanted her ashes scattered? So many questions.

Around the same time, I attended the funeral of a close family friend and witnessed first-hand, again, the confusion and pain that arises from grieving loved ones left behind with so many unanswered questions. Funerals aside, there is a lot more for grieving families to manage when a loved one passes.

It was my a-ha moment.

Mum has led a big life (if you hadn’t already guessed!); a life full of stories, travels, and adventures that could fill a book – and then another. I realised what I wanted for my mum was what I never had with my father: a place, a central location, where these stories could be left behind, her adventures documented, and her final wishes stored safely until they were needed. A connection between my mum and me beyond the grave.

And so AddendoVault was born. Driven by a desire to create – and preserve – a connection with my mum beyond the grave, I started working on a solution to save others the stress, confusion, and grief of losing a loved one and feeling the connection is gone. What I created is an online vault containing everything families needed to stay connected. A single destination to make the transition into post-life and all the administration and arrangements that are required as straightforward as possible, whilst also creating a platform or home for that person’s ongoing legacy.

I interviewed friends, family, funeral directors, and nurses all in an attempt to create the best, most comprehensive platform I could. I looked at solutions overseas and spoke to wills and estate lawyers, all of which enabled me to build a platform with compassion, kindness, and empathy for those who would be using it, and importantly the platform I would use to stay connected to my own mother when the time comes.

Making – and keeping – connections beyond the grave

How does it work? The primary user creates a vault then simply follows a series of prompts to in-fill as much information as possible into the various sections. Vault ‘holders’ can add as much or as little info as they want. It is completely secure and personal. No one else can add or update information. Vault holders can then nominate loved ones and/or professional contacts – ‘key holders’ – to be given access, and determine different levels of access for different people at different times.

When the vault holder passes, one of the key holders registers the death. Then, after 12 hours, or once another key holder confirms the person’s death, the vault is opened by the nominated key holder.

Although it’s still upsetting to think about, I’m so glad my mum mentioned to me that song she wanted to be played at her funeral. I hope AddendoVault enables me to build – and keep – that connection with her beyond the grave that I was never able to have with my dad. But I also hope I won’t have to worry about that for a long time.

Planning for end of life after 40 and why it matters

Headshot of woman entering life after 40 with long blonde hair smiling at camera

If you are one of the 12 million Australians who don’t have a will, at least you’re not alone, right? Not quite. If you die without a will, it creates a massive legal and logistical headache for your loved ones at a time of immeasurable stress. Why would you want to compound their heartbreak?

Planning for end of life after 40 matters, but it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Whether or not you have assets or children, or other family members you’d like provided for when you die, what you leave behind is your precious legacy.

To help us understand a little more about how straight-forward and, ultimately, rewarding end of life planning can be, we caught up recently with life-coach and author, Hedley Derenzie, to chat about her new venture, Legesi.

Hedley, I’m 47 and don’t have a will! What are the stats? Do you know how many people in Australia die without a will?

Well, firstly you’re not alone. Almost half of Australia’s population (approximately 12 million people in 2021) do not have a will, and even for those who do, most of them haven’t been updated for at least three years. 

So it’s not uncommon for someone to die without a will. This is called ‘intestate’ and unfortunately only serves to cause more suffering to those left behind who are already grieving. 

What many people don’t know is that if you die without a will in Australia, your assets (including your body) become the property of the Office of Public Trustee in your state or territory. These are government departments and if you’ve ever had to deal with government departments, you know that it’s not always a walk in the park. 

Your family has to apply to have your assets (including your body) returned to them and they are distributed according to a legal formula in which your family has no say. As you can imagine, this can turn into quite the nightmare. 

Really, every single person over the age of 18 should have an updated will. 

Why do you think people are so reluctant to think practically and plan ahead for the end of their lives, and how much do you think that’s wrapped up in our collective, age-old fear of death?

Most of us fear what we don’t know and there’s a lot we don’t know about death, in particular our own death.

In my experience of helping people through their end of life planning process, the more educated people are about death, the less scary it is. For example, I had a client who had a debilitating fear of death but she wanted to get her paperwork in order for her kids. By the end of the process she realised it wasn’t a fear of death but the fear of not knowing how to do what she knew she needed to do. 

In saying this, it’s natural for us to have a fear of death because we don’t know when or how it’s going to happen. But we all need to learn to accept that it is going to happen whether we like it or not. So the greatest gift we can give our families and loved ones is a completed end of life plan so we’re not making life more difficult for them after we’re gone. 

At what age is it prudent to start mapping out the end of one’s own life? And if we create a plan at, say, 40, how often should we be revisiting or revising that plan?

The earlier the better. Death isn’t limited to the sick and elderly. While the statistics show that the majority of us will live well into our 80s (average life expectancy for non indigenous Australians in 2020 was 83yrs, with indigenous Australians shockingly living almost a decade less, on average), death can happen at anytime to anyone.

Because none of us knows when our time is up, it’s important to have the required paperwork completed so that our loved ones are protected, sparing them any additional unnecessary suffering. 

So an end of life plan isn’t just for you. It’s a gift to the ones you love. 

Your plan should be updated whenever there’s a major change in your life such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or in the case of any new investment/s. But I suggest reviewing your plan at least once a year. When we develop a relationship with the reality of death, we’re more likely to get more out of life. Contemplating death on a regular basis, even if that’s just yearly, just helps us to appreciate life so much more.  

How did you come up with the idea for Legesi?

After my father died in 2009, I went to see a financial planner. He told me I needed a will and organised a lawyer to come in and draw up the paperwork for me. I was 31 years old at the time and after it was done I promptly forgot about it and got on with life.

When I turned 40 and my situation had changed, I realised I should probably have the will updated, but I couldn’t find it. I’d forgotten where I saved it. I couldn’t even remember the name of the lawyer! I looked up the financial planner but he’d gone out of business. So the will I’d paid for was gone forever.

I decided there had to be a better way of managing this kind of paperwork. 

I asked my friends how they organised their paperwork but found that most of them – these are people with young children and property! – had never even had a will. I was shocked by how unprepared for the inevitable they were.

I went looking for a service that helped people create, manage, and organise this information, but couldn’t find anything. There are a lot of resources available but it was a lot of information to navigate. I knew there had to be an easier way. That’s when I came up with the idea for Legesi; to make the end-of-life planning process easier, so that more people would get it done.  

So what exactly is a death plan? And how impactful do you think having one in place can be for a person’s wellbeing through midlife and beyond?

In short, a death plan or an end of life plan contains all the information your family will need in the event of your death. It contains your legal wishes, medical wishes, funeral wishes, digital information, personal wishes, financial information, and so on.

Think of everything that’s in your name – all of that has to be dealt with when you die. If someone doesn’t have this information organised somewhere, it’s a nightmare for those who are left to deal with figuring everything out.

If you could share some wisdom with your 40-year-old self, what would it be?

I’m only 43, so I would probably just say what I’m already telling myself, which is to appreciate every day, look for things to be grateful for, and focus your thoughts and feelings on what you want to experience rather than what you don’t want to experience. Tell yourself how amazing, beautiful, smart, talented, and radiant you are every day. And be kind to yourself and others, and forgiving of yourself when you’re not.

Connect with Hedley: http://www.hedleyderenzie.com/