Josh Slocum, Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), spends his entire day on a soapbox telling people why funeral planning, advance directives and discussing your choices are important. You’d think he of all people would have his affairs in order.
Imagine his surprise in December 2010 when a heart attack struck him at the age of 36. Mortality rudely slapped his face and he was not prepared.
Given his lifestyle, a heart attack was not a complete surprise. Slocum was a heavy smoker and overweight by at least 60 pounds. The fact that he smoked endeared him to Lisa Carlson, the previous FCA executive director who also smoked.
The FCA produces Before I Go, You Should Know. This handy booklet is a planning kit illustrated with drawings by Edward Gorey. It’s a place to record your wishes regarding funeral or memorial services, facts useful for an obituary or death certificate, and the location of vital papers for handling your estate.
In the introduction to Before I Go, You Should Know, it says, “You have a duty to be sure that these things are understood, especially in a world where friends and family live some distance from you. Get it all in order and then be sure to tell others where you put it…. And don’t forget to take it when traveling.”
Slocum shared his story at the recent FCA Biennial meeting in Tucson and gave his okay to tell it here – as long as the humor is included.
He was at home in Vermont when he felt crushing chest pains. Carlson, who Slocum jokingly calls “the Queen o’ Death,” rushed him to the hospital emergency room. As soon as the EKG was read, medical personnel came running. “I knew it was bad when all those doctors came in,” he said.
He was having an acute heart attack, an experience he described as “a living nightmare.” He was promptly taken into the heart cath lab, where the doctors placed a stent that opened the clogged artery.
In recovery after the procedure, while he was swimming in a medication-induced haze, Carlson came in for a bedside visit.
She asked, “Where’s your Before I Go You Should Know kit?” Slocum admitted he didn’t know. “You asshole,” said Carlson.
He also didn’t have advance directives on file. “It took me being smacked in the face with my mortality, even though I do this for a living,” said Slocum.
He has since quit smoking and lost 40 pounds. And he also found his Before I Go, You Should Know kit. Does he carry it with him everywhere he goes? I’ll ask him that question when we both speak on a panel discussion at the Ohio Cemetery Association’s annual meeting in August.
Meanwhile, we can all learn a lesson from Josh Slocum’s experience. Don’t wait until you are smacked upside the head with your own mortality to get your affairs in order.