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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Death of an Historian (and Friend)

Brenda Kociemba

Friday we were talking and making plans.  Saturday she was gone.  The title of this blog post sounds like a mystery title, but it's no mystery: we'd all prefer to avoid planning to be permanently gone.  While driving to the cemetery, I thought about this and the 4 areas of needed plans formed a strange acronym: P.C.P. + Wishes.  Without getting morbid, I offer my ideas, a few brief stories, confessions, promises, and a few questions.  Watch for UPDATES!


  • Photos - The visual side of your life needs to be shared with those remaining behind.
  • Contacts - Who should be alerted that you are gone?
  • Projects - What should be done to complete whatever you leave incomplete?
  • Wishes - Even if you don't get around to a will, what would you hope happens after you are gone?
O.k., that looks like HOPE has died, but I notice there are no dates!
  • Photos - What people and organizations have photos of you?  Until her family was able to find and prowl family photos, an organization where she was active had the most photos.  What about your own photos?  I confess I just found a stack of photo albums...all unused!  O.k., I doubt I'll ever get them filled.  A scrapbooker I'm not.  Not only do photos need to be found for your family and friends to see, but be sure there are directions to find and access them.  Are they on a password protected computer or phone?  Make sure somebody knows where and how to access them.  Another suggestion should include your designated seeker checking online (including any services that store your photos + passwords).  For those of us with a large web presence it may be a large portion of your photos, but probably not your more personal photos...unless you have those on something like Facebook.  I was impressed with how technically skilled the funeral home deals with such photos.  I've gone to funerals in recent years and know there's always something new to discover about the person if a lifetime of photos is offered.   I promise I will let my daughters know where to find the boxes and other miscellaneous photos.  Watch for the UPDATE to see if I've done it yet. UPDATE: I found the easiest way to do all of my updating, which we all know is a constant process, is to locate one place where such information can be always found.  Photos, Contacts, Projects, and Wishes don't go there, just the information on where to look.  This is something that will need periodic checking either at regular intervals to see what has changed or as you realize something has changed. . . probably both.  It also was important to be sure more than one person knows where to look.  As a true UPDATE I made a point of doing this before a trip out this Labor Day weekend.  A bit of it was rushed, so it's already time to see if a bit of revising is already needed.
I remember a storyteller followed a pickup truck with photos blowing out of its bed.  He stopped the driver and was told they were going to the dump as they belonged to an unmarried woman who died.  I often portray Liberetta Lerich Green.  Her daughter, Loa, was a pioneering teacher and principal who never married.  I think she's the one who donated her uncles' Civil War letters and other family letters to the Bentley Historical Library.  I thank her.  I'm also still trying to contact a man who found other family diaries and letters in a bag he somehow obtained.  The family of yet another historian knew he had many photos and papers of interest to the local historical society and let the society sort through them.  A nearly centenarian woman I briefly talked with had children who threw her photos and papers out, keeping only what they valued.  That historical society knew, but was helpless because there was nothing to show she wanted them to be saved and who should get them.
  • Contacts may seem obvious, but my own mother was the oldest of nine.  I confess she had some relatives -- nephews and nieces -- I didn't know.  When I asked family to spread the word, not everybody learned about the funeral.  Also she had been moved away from many friends in organizations and past associations.  Probably if you have such groups, you have personal phone directories and organization directories.  It's a lot to ask those you leave behind to cope with this. It would be good to identify one or a few persons in each group to spread the word.  I promise to include how to find my directories.  I'll also try to keep a contact person or two highlighted on those directories.  Again, watch for the UPDATE. UPDATE:  O.k. I really was hurrying on this, so identifying the key people has now been added when it wasn't there for many groups.     Question: If you're reading this, you have computer contacts, too.  My email address books are huge and not all would need contacting. Do you have a suggestion for this?
from Dave Walker's great work and he has books, too!
  • Projects - Most of us have photos, contacts, and wishes, but what about projects?  My friend was a historian, but storytellers, teachers, librarians and other program planners, we all juggle projects.  A library co-worker had a funny poster about how she had so much to do that, at this rate, she wouldn't be allowed to die for. . . well maybe forever.  Sounds funny, but we also know life goes on without us.  If we care about our projects, it's worth leaving ways to get them completed.  Remember those historians with fabulous resources and knowledge that vanished when they died, simply because their families either didn't value what they collected or didn't know its value to others.  Do you have research, or grants underway, or programs where you are scheduled to appear?  I promise to tell how to find my upcoming programs, so that should be in the UPDATE, I also promise to continue the project Brenda and I discussed, but that brings up another Question: Projects are always changing, and I confess I run the local congregation of the Church of the Unholy Mess, Do you have a suggestion for this?  -- and, no, the piles of projects and much more Unholy Mess aren't likely ever to permanently disappear. UPDATE: This is where my idea of having one location to list (and update as needed) really helps.

    "If a cluttered desk signs a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?" Albert Einstein

    • Wishes may sound like a legal will.  That certainly is worth doing, but it doesn't have to be that formal.  Confession time: the group where I met Brenda had a program a year ago with a lawyer on this topic.  The head of the group confessed she still hadn't gotten around to this yet.  Surprisingly enough, ages ago I wrote this sort of thing and even had it witnessed!  All right, holographic wills, the technical term, can have problems and, I probably ought to update it, but it's in a place where one daughter knows to look.  I'll try to finally make an offiffiffic'al will and mention it in an UPDATE, but even without going that far, it doesn't hurt to have something written out saying what you'd like to see happen when you die. My fellow storyteller friends can have a wake storytelling about me!  (Based on her grandmother's funeral, I know my younger daughter would be too choked up to speak, but this should give her and others many good laughs and memories.)
    So that's what seems like essential plans without getting into money things like insurance and hopefully isn't morbid.  I promise to do an UPDATE or UPDATES.  I'd love to see your Suggestions.  By the way this blog does post comments, but you must click Comments in the box at the bottom of this post.


    Barra the Bard said...


    Great blog post! I have bookmarked it to refer to again. 3 comments: 1) Hard to organize a desk when the one you have (a treasured inheritance from my mother) is a small secretary with a flap I keep closed to prevent the younger cat, Lucy Feathertail, from playing with whatever's there.... 2)when I worked at Hunt Library circ at CMU, a photography prof wanted to put on course reserves some wonderful albums of schoolchildren from the 1800s-early 1900s. I asked her if they were family photos, urging her to put them in a historical archive somewhere. No, they were albums she'd picked up in an antique shop, and she wasn't interested. As someone who's lost a lot of family photos to a housefire and high summer temps frying more in an attic, I was horrified. SOMEONE would like those pictures! 3) A wonderful example of an uncompleted project is that of Robert Jordan, fantasy writer extraordinaire. When he learned he had an incurable disease, he was in the midst of writing a lengthy series of great fantasy novels, the *Wheel of Time* series. He left behind copious notes, outlines, and recordings, and his wife hired another writer to use them in completing his work. Jordan thought he had 1 more volume to go; it's turned into 3, and the last one is due out next year. THAT'S a completed project!
    I also have a question: in what area of history was your friend's expertise?--Barra the Bard

    Brigitte Todd @ Clutter TOSS said...

    Excellent blog post. This is the project I have been working on this year. Here are some more ideas and thoughts on this subject.

    A "just in case" binder listing all the information someone would need in case something would happen to you. As a wife, mother, volunteer and business owner, I realized that there are many things that I do or know that no one else does. Just one example; I pay all the bills in our family. I am the only one who knows all the passwords, what is paid and when. I started listing all this type of information in a binder.

    Another important thing to include is all the social sites you are on and the passwords. It is strange seeing my friend's Facebook page a couple years after her passing.

    For the volunteer groups, I created a Google account for the organization and uploaded all the files and notes to Google Drive. Now the entire committee has access and folks can come and go as needed.

    For all my personal files and notes of projects, medical information and all such things I have an Evernote account. I can store files, notes, web sites, photos and such in individual notebooks. I also use Dropbox if I need to share files with others.

    Also very important - your computer. Keeping the computer files organized and easy to follow will help those trying to find what they need like photos, scanned documents and such. And remember to do backups!

    That are just some ideas. The Wall Street journal had an article on the subject

    I hope that helps a bit.

    Lois Sprengnether Keel said...

    Excellent suggestions, Brigitte, and your Just In Case binder's a bit more organized than my current stack of miscellaneous notes and the current holographic will until I do a "real" one.
    Love Evernote, so that's a good idea, too.
    Haven't tried Dropbox nor Google Drive (I _do_ use Google Docs, however). Guess I need to check them out.
    The Wall St. Journal article does a good systematic review of needed documentation.
    Thanks for all you listed. It will help any of us reading it.