SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Some of us are planners, some are not. You know which one you are. It's probably not surprising that only a third of Americans over the age of 65 have living wills. Younger people are even less likely to have made preparations for their deaths.
After the sudden death of her mother, one woman in Los Angeles made it her business to help people get their affairs in order, including choosing the music you want to spend your last moments on Earth listening to. You know, mine really would be BJ Leiderman's theme music (laughter). Reporter Lisa Napoli reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR OPENING)
AMY PICKARD: Hi.
LISA NAPOLI, BYLINE: Every month or so, 49-year-old Amy Pickard hosts a potluck gathering at her apartment.
PICKARD: They've been described as death Tupperware parties.
NAPOLI: Guests bring food that reminds them of a deceased loved one.
PICKARD: Pamela brought some coleslaw because her mom used to make an amazing coleslaw.
NAPOLI: Then, with cocktails in hand, they gather in Pickard's cheerful living room to get down to work.
PICKARD: Everyone's got their departure files. I'll start. I'm Amy, and I'm going to die.
DEBBIE ADLER: I'm Debbie. I'm probably going to die.
MIMI CHEN: Yeah. My name's Mimi, and I'm determined not to die.
NAPOLI: That's guests Mimi Chen and Debbie Adler.
Participants tonight range in age from 40 to 70. Pickard walks them through a 50-page document she's created called the Good to Go Departure File. Achingly specific details of one's demise are covered, from the obvious, like where you want your belongings to go and who should make decisions for you if you can't, to questions like, if you're hospitalized at the end, would you want the TV on? Where do you keep a list of passwords to devices, bank accounts and social media? And what about your sonic will? What sounds or music do you want in the background as you await death?
Pickard learned the necessity for this kind of planning the hard way back in 2012.
PICKARD: When my mom died unexpectedly, I had to take care of all of the death duties and become a detective, basically.
NAPOLI: She scrambled in search of a will. Meanwhile, the morgue was calling and asking how to dispose of the remains.
PICKARD: You know, you're going through this deep cosmic pain, and there's all of this information that you need that you don't have answers to.
NAPOLI: Settling her mother's affairs took Pickard two years. And then she grappled with her grandmother's, then her father's demise. All this turned her into an evangelist for advance planning. She started consulting and hosting these parties.
Darren Callahan and his wife Lisa attended with an eye toward Darren's mother, whose dementia is quickly advancing.
DARREN CALLAHAN: A light bulb went off that I should get our house in order, and she had a huge list of things that I hadn't considered for myself.
LISA CALLAHAN: You want to live your life in a certain way. Why wouldn't you want to have your life end in a certain way?
NAPOLI: Despite the obvious benefits to advanced planning and Pickard's unique upbeat approach, she's found not everyone is eager to become, as she calls it, death positive.
PICKARD: You know, I've had a lot of people who are superstitious and say, well, I don't want to fill out my advance planning because then I'm going to die. (Laughter) And I just, like - have you ever played the lottery? Did you win? You know, it's just - writing this stuff down isn't going to make you die.
NAPOLI: Guest Debbie Adler found the whole evening so thought-provoking, she's planning to invite some friends over for her upcoming 41st birthday to talk about it.
ADLER: Celebrate one's birth while thinking about one's death. That feels (laughter) - that feels good.
NAPOLI: For NPR News, I'm Lisa Napoli in Los Angeles.
(SOUNDBITE OF STEVIE WONDER'S "HAPPY BIRTHDAY")
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