Mom shares advice with daughter for when she’s gone

On the day her mother dies, Hallie Bateman will have very clear instructions: “Make fajitas.”

And when the meal inevitably fills her up but doesn’t make her feel better, she’ll know just what to do next: “Pour yourself a stiff glass of whiskey.”

That advice comes directly from the 28-year-old’s mother, Suzy Hopkins, who’s given her daughter enough tips to fill a book. And together, they’ve written one.

“What To Do When I’m Gone: A Mother’s Wisdom to Her Daughter” (Bloomsbury), features Hopkins’ instructions and Bateman’s illustrations, done while both are relatively young and healthy and can have a sense of humor about a day Bateman dreads — when her mother is no longer around.

“You don’t necessarily make it to your 90s,” Hopkins, 58, tells The Post from her home in Northern California, where she published a magazine for seniors before retiring. “But if I die tomorrow, I’ll be glad I got this on paper.”

The idea started with her daughter, a freelance illustrator whose work has appeared everywhere from Buzzfeed to The New Yorker. One sleepless night some five years ago, she tried to picture what life would be like without her mom.

“I thought I’d be paralyzed with not knowing what to do when I couldn’t pick up the phone to call her,” says Bateman, who recently moved from New York City to Los Angeles. “If I just had a book of instructions that started at the moment she died, at least some of her guidance would still be with me.”

Hopkins, who has two other children, ages 26 and 30, liked the idea of leaving “something other than [money] or property” to her children. But she didn’t think about her own mortality until 2013, when she was in a car accident that left her unharmed but shaken, aware that death was no longer hypothetical.

Over a weeklong vacation in Maine, mother and daughter hunkered down to write and illustrate the book, starting with fajitas —“humor is an entryway into a difficult conversation,” Bateman says of the darkly comedic tone of the book.

On Day 2, Hopkins advises her daughter to “talk, listen and cry” with friends and family, and to “serve them tea and toast if you’re up to it.” Over the days and months, the advice toggles between the tender and the practical, whether it’s Hopkins reminding her daughter to clean her own house or not snapping at people who awkwardly express their sympathy. (“Are you my long-lost sibling? If not, you have no idea what I’m going through.”)

There’s plenty of motherly advice, too, like how to decide if it’s time to have kids, and what to do when you’re stuck in a rut at work. Hopkins even includes favorite family recipes that could help her daughter through such difficult times as a breakup: “Love can hurt,” she writes, before one such recipe. “Curry can help.”

For Hopkins, the most wrenching moment came when imagining how it would be for Bateman to mark her first, motherless birthday. “Here I am,” Hopkins wrote, “dead instead of giving you cash tucked in a greeting card with a golden retriever on the front of it … I wish I could be there.”

She says she cried writing that. “It had not occurred to me that I would miss out on the rest of Hallie’s life,” says Hopkins, now separated from Bateman’s father. “I’m not going to have that joy of being with her … Mortality becomes less of an ethereal concept and more of an upcoming reality.”

Mother and daughter say they never wanted to make a book “where you just cry” — spoiler alert: you will — but hoped instead to inspire readers to talk with their parents while they’re still around.

“Not everyone is comfortable talking about [death] at first,” Bateman says, “but if you can get over that first 30 minutes of discomfort, I think people are desperate to talk about it deep down.”

At the request of some of their readers, they’ve written a “What To Do When I’m Gone” guide, some questions parents should answer for their children:

  • What are you most proud of in your life?
  • What’s the hardest situation you’ve faced, in career, health, love or other area?
  • Was there a turning point when your life changed?
  • What family recipes have you saved?
  • What’s the best advice you’ve received?
  • Why did you choose the work you did? Was it a good choice?
  • What are your thoughts about death and dying? What do you think happens when you die? What do you hope happens?
  • If you could send me one message after you die, what would it be?

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