A Day Planner for Death

By Diane Olson

Get your death act together with Good to Go’s “Departure File.”


I think of it all the time.

Okay, not all the time, but at least once or twice a day. Not in a freaked-out, “OMG-what-if-I-get-in-an-accident-or-have-a-heart-attack?!” way. More in a “Yeah, I could die today. I really hope I don’t, but I guess it’s okay if I do” way.

Heightened awareness of my mortality undoubtedly stems from having breast cancer 11 years ago, and then being misdiagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer two years later.

Between the misdiagnosis and subsequent surgery there was a six-week gap, during which time I was advised to “get my affairs in order.” And though I didn’t then (I didn’t really believe the diagnosis, or maybe I was just in denial), a few months ago I did finally get my act together, death-wise, thanks to Good To Go.

I ran across mention of Good To Go, an “unconventional advance planning company,” in a magazine and was immediately intrigued. Once I logged on to the site I was (forgive me) a goner.

Good To Go offers advance death planning parties, described as “death Tupperware parties,” as well as individual consultations and a Departure File, which is a living will and much more. (The company is California-based, but provides remote consultations and occasionally takes its parties on the road.) It was started by a woman who was overwhelmed by the minutia of death after her mother died.

I mean, think about it (if you haven’t already been forced to): How do you even begin to finish up someone else’s business? Especially now, when so many of us bank and pay bills online, so there are no bills or statements to sift through. Then there are all the people you need to call: Who are they and what are their numbers?

I so do not want to put my siblings or whomever through that kind of time-sucking torment.

Dayplanner for death

Enter the Departure File. It’s basically a day planner for death. And filling it out forces you to make a lot of difficult, but necessary, decisions.

For example, there’s a folder for health care directives, where you have to designate a health care agent, decide if you want to be resuscitated under various circumstances and provide instructions for a number of care-related scenarios.

The second folder requires you to decide if you want an obituary, where it should be published, what it should mention and which picture to use. And that’s just the beginning. There’s a death notification list; space to list all of your creditors (including account numbers and customer service phone numbers), and sections for your insurance, banking and even social media accounts.

Cremation or donation?

Then there’s the really personal stuff, like child and pet care instructions, money and belongings disbursement—and what you want done with your body. You even fill out all the information for your death certificate.

That’s the section where things got real for me. I’d been teetering for some time between cremation and donating my body, and now I had to decide: Can I deal with the thought of being a saggy, baggy, anonymous corpse at the U of U medical school? Or should I just go ahead and prepay for the ashes-to-ashes option?

Let your corpse live a little

Well, as Mary Roach points out in Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers, death doesn’t have to be boring. Why not let my corpse live a little? And as a 50-something woman, my body is already saggy, baggy and anonymous.

So I filled out the application to donate my body to the Neurobiology and Anatomy Department at the University of Utah School of Medicine. Unsurprisingly, given my storied medical history, I received an acceptance letter a short time later.

After that, the practical part of my Departure File was complete. Whew! All in all, it took around 20 hours. And there’s still more.

The last section provides space to share your beliefs, memories, lessons learned, hopes, fears and desires. The bits that I’ve done had me laughing, crying and dredging up lots of long-buried memories. Like the rest of the process, it was emotionally exhausting, but weirdly fulfilling.

Similarly, the 11 years that I’ve been highly cognizant of my mortality have been the happiest of my life. Awareness of death has added a sweet, sharp poignancy to even the most mundane of moments.

And now, thanks to Good To Go, I also have my death-related act together. Whomever deals with my Departure File will have what they need to finish up my life. They’ll also read about magical trips, joyous adventures, quiet contentment and great and terrible love affairs. Which I hope to continue to add to for many years to come.

GoodToGoPeace.org. The Departure file costs $55. Diane Olson is a longtime CATALYST contributor and the author of A Nature Lover’s Almanac.

This article was originally published on October 2, 2017.