My Dad’s To-Do List for When He Dies

We’re not ready to think about it

Brad Snyder
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readFeb 5, 2024


Father & Son. Image courtesy of author.

My father removes the stapled sheets of paper from his back pocket. He points at the kitchen table. It’s his signal to my sister and me to have a seat.

“I need ten minutes,” he says. “I have to talk to you about something.”

Our minds leap to worst-case scenarios. “Are you okay?” Jennifer asks.

“Yes,” he says. “I’m fine, but…” His voice trails off.

He unfolds the document — at least six pages thick — as if he’s about to read a speech.

On the paper are bank account numbers, insurance policy details, and directions for his burial, which will be at a veteran’s cemetery on Long Island, given his Vietnam-era National Guard service.

It also contains the location of the police precinct where, after his death, we will need to turn in the handgun that he’s retained after three decades of work as a parole officer.

“Dad, are you sick?” I ask.

My father’s eyes turn glassy. “I’m not,” he says. He chokes up for a moment.

“It’s just I’m not going to live forever.”

Dad’s been talking more about his mortality since the car accident. Two years ago, a car raced away from an undercover cop following an attempted drug bust. It ran a red light at seventy miles an hour. It crashed into my father’s car as he was making a left-hand turn. My dad’s car turned into a crushed accordion.

Lots of things on him were broken. Lots of things were bruised and cracked. His lungs filled with blood. There was a procedure to stop the bleeding. Then, when the bleeding resumed, a surgery. There was a week in intensive care.

There was a rehab facility where he’d spend two dreadful weeks begging me to take him home, convinced he was going to die. The pain from the eight cracked ribs has stayed with him. His lungs have never been the same. His days on the tennis court have ended.

Officially, he’s “recovered.” But he’s since looked much frailer, much more all of his seventy-five years. To our dismay, he’s also let his hair go gray. It’s the kind of color that mocks an idea my sister and I still like to cling to — that we…