The meaning of life is connected, inextricably, to the meaning of death; ...mourning is a romance in reverse, and if you love, you grieve and there are no exceptions....
~ Thomas Lynch, The Undertaking
If you love someone, the odds are that one of you will die before the other. If you live long enough, the sad fact is that you will be the one who has to deal with the aftermath.
Here are some things that, fortunately, I realized before it was too late. Others I learned the hard way.
My wish for you is that you be spared the miserable lessons. Losing someone you love is hard enough.
In my experience, the five most important things are:
TAKE NOTHING FOR GRANTED
Live in the present. Take time to enjoy your time together and what you have. Don't put off the fun stuff. Don't wait for a special occasion. Doug and I tried to go on a date a week. I don't regret a single one of them. Take pictures and videos you will treasure later. Notice and focus on the good things. Be grateful.
LEAVE NOTHING UNSAID
Don't assume you will get a chance later to tell someone how much you love them, what you appreciate about them, or how sorry you are for something you did. Every time you see them could be the last.
BE KIND TO EACH OTHER
Doug knew how much I loved him, but I regret every harsh word I ever spoke to my husband. When I see couples who still get to be together bickering, my heart aches. What if those were the last words said between them? You won't get a chance to take it back, or make up for it. See wishes and regrets.
PLAN FOR THE UNTHINKABLE
Nobody likes to think about what to do or how their life will change when their loved one is gone. But the fact is that when they are, there will have many decisions to make. If you talked about this in advance with your loved one, you will be better able to handle those decisions, and to respect their wishes.
These are the things you should discuss, or have them write down (if it's too hard to talk about). If they are reluctant, tell your loved one that it will help YOU later.
Make sure the information is in a readily retrievable place that you know about. For tissue and organ donation, you will need to know right away. You will need to make decisions on funeral arrangements within a day or two.
- Organ or Tissue Donation: Do they want their organs or tissues donated to benefit others, or is that something they are not comfortable with?
- Services: Do they want to be buried or cremated? If they are cremated, do they care where their ashes go. Do they have any special wishes about the services? (A friend of my mom's wants to be wearing a halo during her wake.) Do they want an open or closed casket? Is there anyone they would like to speak at the service? Some people even write their own obituary in advance.
- Donations. If they would like donations made to any organization in lieu of flowers, you will need to know this before the obituary is published.
- A Will. For heaven's sake, make sure they have a will and you know where it is. If there is no will, the court will be making all the decisions. They need to appoint an executor in their will. If not, the court will appoint an administrator, who will have to get permission from the probate court to disposition any assets.
Make sure the will is up to date - review it every 5 years, or if situations change, which they invariably do.
- Assets. To make things easier for their executor, they should also keep a list of bank or brokerage accounts, properties, insurance policies, and digital assets (with passwords.), etc. Update it once a year.
- Personal property. Find out any special wishes about personal property they would like to give to someone.
- Insurance. Think hard about getting life and mortgage insurance. Doug and I had talked about this, and decided against it. I figured I could go back to work, or sell some property if I needed money. I figured I could tap into our retirement savings if need be. I thought I would have his full pension. I assumed that Doug, like his family members, would live well into his 70's, 80's or 90s. Wrong, wrong wrong.
I am so distraught that going back to work has been difficult. Working full time again would mean moving 3500 miles away from family and friends and the neighborhood we loved. The real estate market has tanked, so selling now would incur significant losses. If I drain my retirement savings, I will be stuck in the future. Worrying about money on top of grieving is a real challenge. It would be nice to have more of a cushion.
- A letter. I had written a letter to Doug in case I should go first. It reminded him of how much I loved him, how I enjoyed our life together, and thanked him for all he had done for me and given to me of himself. I thought it would help him. I kind of wish I had such a letter from him. Luckily for me, he said all this and showed me his love every day.
HAVE A LIFE AND A SELF OF YOUR OWN
I loved Doug more than I can say. However, I still had a sense of my own self worth as an individual. I had my own interests. I have wonderful friends. I knew how to manage the finances. Doug taught me to take care of some basic things around the house. Without that, I would be completely lost now.
"You cannot tell how soon it may be too late."
~ Matthew Brady, Civil War photographer
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