Vexations and Conundrums – December 2021

Vexations and Conundrums

By Katina Pontikes

Mise En Place

Katina Article LOGO art


Just when I was feeling all smug and satisfied with my preparations for my ultimate demise, along comes correspondence in my inbox which outlined a checklist for getting one’s affairs in order. This list was more comprehensive than other lists I had seen. And the ideas were important and necessary. 

I ran through the actions my husband and I needed to take, according to my latest information. I had eight important items to discuss.

“I don’t want to talk about this right now,” he replied when I broached the subject at what I thought was the right moment. He had been fed and wasn’t working at his desk. He hates to talk about death plans.

I would have to do better on my sales pitch. I selected the final wishes letter, which plans the funeral in deep detail, outlining the cremation or burial, what type of memorial one prefers, and spelling out where the gathering of friends and family will be hosted. This got his attention. He began to think about who he wanted to speak about him at the celebration of his life.

He has a strong preference about the location for remembrance. I talked about food and libations. If we both leave earth together, what if the family decides to save money and just offer soft drinks and some cheese and crackers?  I want a proper white wine served at the funeral home we like. Red wine isn’t allowed due to spillage by the grief-stricken mourners, who I imagine fainting as they succumb to the thought of losing us forever. And if alcohol is offered, there will have to be nice food to go with it for sobriety’s sake. My mind swirls with menu options.

Then there is music to consider. Should it be soft jazz or classical? We have so many choices. All of these considerations relate just to the final wishes letter!

The letter of instruction for our executor is even more challenging. This letter sets out responsibilities, has a contact list for important items attached, and contains passcodes and locations of keys. A great deal of administrative planning is involved with this item. My husband’s eyes are glazing over, and I can see his enthusiasm plummeting.

I change tack and tell him we may want to consider leaving a letter to our adult children about life philosophy, explaining the importance of giving back to the community, what we held significant in our adult lives. He shows interest. I don’t mention that the new way to do this is to make a video. Add film production and he’s off to the hills.

Of course, all these arrangements will need to involve our lawyer, again. My husband is looking through the refrigerator. This is my clue to pause this subject for now, to be visited again shortly.  The seeds are sown.

Suddenly I am interrupted by a call on my cellphone. Two of my sisters are sharing the duty of caring for my mother, who is experiencing health setbacks. My sisters have distinctly different personalities and work styles. The sister calling me is not happy about how the kitchen functions when meals are prepared.

“There isn’t organization, and ingredients aren’t set out in advance. Things get spilled all over the place!” she laments, complaining about our sister’s chef style. “She doesn’t know mise en place!”

I wouldn’t know mise en place had I not taken French cooking classes. I almost laugh at this observation. I remind my sister that each personality approaches tasks differently, and a certain amount of flexibility is required as she and my other sister cooperate on jobs.

After I end the call, I realize how related my mother’s care is to me planning the end of my life. Mise en place, or everything organized early and in correct order, will make for a better end result. 

Now I need to decide when to broach this subject again with my husband, in an upbeat and cooperative style, for best results.


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