Sept. 14, 2022

29: Who They Gonna Call?

29: Who They Gonna Call?

In addition to choosing an emergency contact, you should prepare contact lists for who they should call if you ended up in a crisis or need longer-term support. In this episode, Cianna goes over what kinds of contact lists you should prepare for differen...

In addition to choosing an emergency contact, you should prepare contact lists for who they should call if you ended up in a crisis or need longer-term support. In this episode, Cianna goes over what kinds of contact lists you should prepare for different situations.

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If you were to get into an accident or fall critically ill, who would need to know? Including contact lists in your Death Binder is one of the most helpful things you can do for your people. And it’s not that hard to do. Today I’m going talk about a few different types of contact lists that which will be a huge help to everyone around you.



Hello, and welcome to Dying Kindness, the podcast for people who are going to die someday. I'm Cianna Stewart, and I'm going to die someday. I've cared for people as they died and have supported grieving friends, both emotionally and practically. I've seen the impact that death has on the people left behind and how much worse that experience is when the grief is complicated by having to deal with a messy, legal, financial, or physical aftermath. I don't want to do that to the people I love when I eventually die. And I don't want you to either, because (spoiler alert) you are going to die someday, too. So let's all do what we can to make key decisions now in order to be kinder to the people we'll leave behind. That's a dying kindness.

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I hope that you already have an emergency contact stored in your phone just in case you get into an accident. If haven’t done that yet, put this episode on pause and go into the settings on your phone and then look for something that says Emergency or Health or Medical ID or something like that and fill in the contact info. I’ll be here when you get back, so pause this now and get that handled.


OK, now that you’ve identified an emergency contact, let’s think about what that person will have to do if they ever get a call from a hospital. I hope that you never do get into an accident, but it’s far better to make a plan and never have to use it than to be in a crisis without a plan. 

Your emergency contact is super-important, but they’re just one person. If you did get into an accident, you probably have a handful of other people that you’d want alerted right away. I’m talking about the close friends and family who you’d expect to drop everything to rush to the ER and wait for the doctor to tell them what’s going on if you were in critical condition. These are people who’d put their own lives on hold in order to be there for you, at least for a little while. I refer to them as the ER Waiting Room Team. I personally don’t think this group should be more than 5 people. Any more than that and both your emergency contact and the hospital would get overwhelmed. So that’s the first list: ER Waiting Room Team.

Next, we need to remember that life continues to go on outside while you’re in the hospital, and whoever depends on you on a day-to-day basis needs to be taken care of. First you’d have to think about who depends on you and then identify what kinds of care you provide for them, and then think about who could step in temporarily to cover for you. This is your Dependents Care Team, and it includes someone cleared to pick up your kids from school, babysitters who can stay overnight, carpool drivers, someone who can take your dog out, elder care providers, etc. Note that if you have these responsibilities but don’t know who could take over for you in an emergency, this is something you should work on getting set up. And also figure out how they would be able to unlock your house, turn off alarms, know who needs what daily medications, all of that kind of stuff.

You should also have at least one work contact listed, someone who could spread the word amongst your coworkers or who could assign someone to cover your responsibilities. 

So in addition to your emergency contact, these are the three lists of people who need to be called in a crisis situation: your ER Waiting Room Team, your Dependents Care Team, and your Work Team.

As a quick but important aside: If you don’t think that anyone in your life is close enough to fill these roles, then let this help spur you to develop these relationships. Building relationships with this level of trust takes effort and time, so get started today. It’s not too late. You are still alive and healthy enough to listen to this podcast. You have it in you to grow your circle of trust and friendship, but you just might need to place a higher priority on that than you have in the past, and you should expand beyond work colleagues. I believe in you. Get to it.

OK back to the contact lists. So far we’ve only talked about an acute Emergency Room situation, but there are times that we need help that’s more long term and not so much a crisis. And despite the title of this podcast, I’m not only talking about when you’re dying. There are times we need help because we get ill or have elective surgery or get pregnant or we have become caregivers ourselves for a family member or all kinds of reasons that we need help for weeks or even months in a row. Times like that are when you can call on more casual friends or set up systems of care. Let’s call this your General Support Team, the ones you’ll call on for ongoing or extended support. It’s great to think in advance about who can do all this, not when you’re already in need and feeling stressed. 

I’m calling it one team, but actually you should have two general categories of people here: One of professional services, and one that’s volunteer. I’m a fan of utilizing professional services whenever possible so that you can reduce the burden of care for your friends and family. 

Before I go further, let’s get clearer on the kinds of long-term situations we’re talking about and what might need to get covered. There are a few common situations when any of us need ongoing support for weeks or months: when recovering from a major illness or injury, during later stage pregnancy and after giving birth, when we’re consumed with providing support for someone else in crisis, if we should develop a long-term disability, and (of course) when we’re in a slow decline and actively dying. The particulars of each of those situations is very different, but in broad strokes the need for ongoing support is the same.

The professional services can include things like housecleaning, gardening, dog walking, food prep, childcare, elder care, basic home maintenance. Sometimes you can cover these with Medicare or with long-term disability insurance or long-term care insurance. Sometimes, though, you’ll need to pay for things out of pocket. I’m not saying that you should never rely on friends and family to do all this, but I’ve seen too many caregivers get burnt out over the long term so I encourage you to consider alternatives whenever you can. If you’re working with an end-of-life doula or a hospice team, ask them for help figuring out what services are available to you.

And of course there are friends and family who will also be part of your General Support Team. Remember, people love to help, especially when they have concrete tasks. Make a note if someone has a particular skill or personality trait that can be useful, like they have a car or love to cook or they’re into the same TV shows you are or regularly go to a farmers market you love. List all kinds people here including neighbors, dog park people, people you know through activities like sports or hobbies, that kind of thing. And you can designate one person in each cluster of friends to spread the word and rally others to support you and your caregivers.

When you’re thinking about who to put on this list, don’t prejudge who might be willing to lend a hand occasionally, especially since most of the things you’ll need can be on a schedule so your people can plan accordingly. Even more importantly, these people can be helping out your primary caregivers by handling errands for them or giving them breaks. I’ll tell you from experience that it’s common to get burnt out as a caregiver so the wider a net you can cast for long-term support the better. 

So now you have several useful contact lists, the first set for your acute emergency needs and the second set for support that’s more planned.

There’s still one more situation to prepare for: If you were to die, who should be told about that? No doubt the people you have on all the other lists will spread the word, but there are still other people and organizations that will need to be contacted. This is also a good opportunity to think about social media and other online places. There are some people who really need to be contacted personally, people who shouldn’t learn about your death when scrolling Facebook or Twitter or TikTok. There’s no guaranteed way to be sure that won’t happen, but you can at least try. Write out your ideal scenario for who gets told when and by whom, both offline and online.

Of course, for this last list your people will want to know if you wanted a funeral or a wake or a memorial service or whatever it is that you wanted done with your body and all that. Also, indicate who on this Death Notice list should be invited to whatever service that you want, and particularly note if you think that this event should be scheduled to give them time to travel in, etc.

Lastly, create a list of anywhere else you want your obituary or death notice to appear. Traditional locations are local newspapers, church bulletins, alumni magazines for universities, groups like Rotary or Lions clubs, or newsletters for places where you volunteer. For many of us, the list should also include particular Facebook groups, online gaming networks, blogs or online communities you manage, that sort of thing. 

To recap, you should create a few contact lists for different needs: For an urgent crisis, your ER Waiting Room Team, Dependents Care Team, and your Work Team. When you need something more ongoing, you’ll rely on your paid and volunteer General Support Teams. And lastly, prepare lists of who would need to be informed of your eventual death, including who should be invited to a memorial or other service.

I hope all this makes it clear that you should think about more than just your one emergency contact, that they’ll need different kinds of people around them to do what they’ll need to do to support you. 

I know it can be emotionally tough to think about these scenarios and that makes it hard to create these contact lists. But think about how much harder it will be for your loved ones if you ended up in a crisis and they didn’t know who to call on for support, or who would feel hurt if they were never told that you needed help. Put yourself in their shoes and use that to overcome your own resistance to making these lists. It really is the kind thing to do.




Thank you for joining me today. If you know someone who could benefit from this episode, please share it with them. That’s the best thing you can do to support this podcast and my mission to change our society’s reluctance to talk openly about death. Let’s work together to not to make it harder than it has to be. For more about all of this, go to

Today’s music is by Blue Dot Sessions, and everything else was done by me. I'm Cianna Stewart, and I'm going to die someday - but hopefully not before I get to do some long walks in Scotland and Ireland.

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Today’s death reading is “Requiem” by Robert Louis Stevenson:


Under the wide and starry sky,
    Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
    And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
    Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
    And the hunter home from the hill