Kenneth L. Hardin: Are you prepared to die?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 15, 2022

I have a weird relationship with death. Because of my previous professional career, I had the opportunity to meet Him personally many times. A few years ago, he was sitting outside my bedroom door hoping we would take that final stroll together, but the Woman upstairs had my back, so Death had to get to steppin’.

For over 20 years, I worked in hospitals where I held the hands of family members as their loved ones took their final breaths. I believed no one should have to cry or die alone, and I tried to honor that daily.

I’ve been with patients who had no one to see them off into that final journey as they peacefully transitioned. I’ve been that voice on the other end of the phone calling with the news at 2 a.m. no one wants to hear. I’ve unzipped a number of body bags and cradled the crumpled bodies of family members who’ve melted into my arms at the sight of their loved ones’ lifeless bodies. I’ve approached families at the height of the pain of losing a loved one and gently and respectfully asked them to give the gift of life to someone else by donating their tissue and organs. I worked part time at a recently demolished funeral home where I held the hands of many people grieving as they said their final goodbyes.

I know Death well. The reason I’m talking so candidly about death is because of a conversation I had recently with a woman whose loved one died tragically due to gun violence. She paused and said with deep reflective emotion how when they woke up that morning, they didn’t know it would be their last. She then paused again and asked, “I wonder why they didn’t have their stuff in order?

When I’ve tried to talk with my skinfolk about living wills, pre-burial plans, estate planning and death, they react the same way the Man of Steel does when hit with kryptonite. Our ancestors’ sweat and blood watered the ground we walk on today and many sacrificed to give us land and other wealth benefits. It would be such a disservice to their struggle and that sacrifice if we didn’t do our part now to pass on generational wealth.

Death is inevitable so I’m on a mission to ensure all people are prepared to die. In that preparedness, I want to ensure assets are protected and we’re passing on more than just debt to our next of kin. I’m so invested in this, I created a nonprofit that assists people in understanding the aforementioned processes. My motivation was spurred by watching an elderly family member, who went into a nursing home, be financially raped. All her possessions and family heirlooms were ravaged like wild hyenas on a carcass during an auction attended by a whole lot of folks who didn’t look like me. My heart was shattered into pieces as I stood on the sidewalk of her home, the one I played in as a child and lived in as an adult for a while raising my young family. It was heartbreaking to endure, watching it be stripped of everything that was of monetary value.

The home was eventually sold for what amounted to pennies on the dollar and resold by the other man for a hefty inflated profit.

I vowed then I would serve as an advocate for people entering the healthcare system to ensure they received the dignity and optimal care they deserved. And, if they were called to glory, I wanted surviving family members to never experience the emotional pain I did, so I vowed I would help them understand life and estate planning.

I want you to conduct a life checkup. Do you have life insurance? What about a will, an executor and know who your beneficiaries will be? Have you contacted a funeral service about pre-burial? Have you discussed a living will and healthcare power of attorney with family members, so they know your wishes if you’re unable to make decisions?

Do you want to be a tissue and organ donor? Have you completed a transfer on death deed for your home? Are your city and county taxes paid current, and there are no liens attached to your property? Is the property deeded correctly? If you have an elderly family member who can’t make sound decisions, do you have durable power of attorney?

If you can’t answer these questions, then you need to put some work in so your heart can remain intact, and your assets protected. We have to stop being afraid to talk about the inevitable. “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” It’s coming whether we want it to or not, so it’s better to be prepared.

Kenneth L. Hardin is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.