Lessons from Mike Smith

Hello Classmate,

   I had a major change in my life recently and I wanted to pass on some lessons I learned that might be helpful.

   My wife, Dana, died last year. She died of respiratory failure caused by long Covid. That is the first subject about which would like to comment.

  1. Please take even extraordinary steps to avoid this disease. We don’t know exactly how she contracted Covid, but somehow it snuck through the precautions she was taking. She received excellent medical care, but as we found out, the medical community is still wrapping its arms around this disease.
    1. She struggled with it for 18 months. Two days after she died, a letter came in the mail scheduling her for some more blood work. On the lab request were five different symptoms that the doctor was chasing, trying to find the root cause and prescribe the correct solutions.
    2. So, my sincere suggestion is to do everything you can to avoid contracting this. Even when others are not wearing masks, if you are in a closed space – particularly with people you do not know – wear a mask.
  2. The best time to talk about after-death issues is before your loved one is ill. During the time that Dana was struggling, I avoided talking about after-death issues. She was already close to depression anyway, so somehow I figured I would bring it up at the “right” time. Unfortunately she died unexpectedly and my failure to gain information earlier created some of the problems listed below.
  3. I suggest getting a will and trust in place. We did not have one and that was actually the least of my problems, but that was because there were no family tensions that can become a headache when money is involved.
    1. I now have both a will and trust. The later puts all financial accounts under one ownership so there are no difficulties in transferring.
    2. I also have an Advance Health Care Directive. Dana died as I was driving her to the hospital. When I rolled up to the emergency entrance, she had been dead for 20 minutes after I failed to revive her. I knew that she did not want to be resuscitated, but she did not have a Directive registered with the hospital. Each medical person that joined asked, “Do we have a DNR?” I intervened each time that she did not want to be resuscitated and they followed my instruction, but it might have gone another way if someone decided on their own that a DNR was needed.
  4. One of the biggest problems has been that I did not have passwords to the various accounts that she used (and that I did not). So each time I wanted to change or cancel an account, I needed to go through all the steps with what is called “customer service” to make the necessary changes. It would have been so simple if I had a listing of passwords. In some cases I needed to provide a death certificate and jump some extra hoops.
    1. Apple has something called a Legacy Key that will allow a third part access. Remember that any Apple user probably has their photo collection stored on the cloud, so this key would provide access.
  5. Another area that has been occupying my time for the last several months has been to deal with personal belongings, particularly her hobbies. Dana lived a very full life, and she was a red head, so she tended to move from project to project. As a result, I have lots of tools and supplies that need to find a home.
    1. It’s not all work. In many cases, I have enjoyed giving her belongings away as a way of spreading good will and experiencing the joy. For instance, I found a music teacher that was grateful for the violins, an art teacher who loves the art supplies, the local Fiber Guild who will find a home for her looms, a young woman that wants to be a chef and has been a recipient of all manner of kitchen tools, spices, and books that are beyond my cooking skill, and two local thrift stores who have received much fresh stock.
    2. All that being said, it would have been more efficient if we had discussed this before she died. That way she could have provided the instruction rather than me just stumbling around and hoping for some luck.


   That’s it for the lessons learned. I thought I would also drop some information on how Dana wanted her body to be handled. Specifically, she requested that her body be composted. Currently it is an approved process in Washington and Colorado. In a few years it will also be available in California. In a nutshell, the process turns the body into compost that can be used as you would any compost that you pick up at the nursery or make from kitchen scraps. In Dana’s case, she wanted to be spread in her beloved garden, so that is where her soil will go when the weather turns warmer and planting time comes.

   If you are interested, I would recommend contacting Recompose in Seattle. Some prior information is vital. For instance, it is important that the body not be embalmed as that stops all the decomposition that is at the heart of turning the body into compost. I had the coroner write on the paperwork “Do Not Embalm” so there were no questions.

   Dana’s obituary is available on the Recompose.org website. Click on Menu, then Obituaries, then View More, then scroll down. There is no search feature, but she was fairly near the top last time I looked.

   If you want more information on composting or anything else, please don’t hesitate to contact me at mike.sm64@gmail.com or 530-388-0421.