These last two weeks have flown by at a rapid speed. Now, being the start of a new month, I have had to do what I have spent a year learning for the first time, all by myself. When my dad was first diagnosed with cancer, he wanted to teach me how to run his business. Honestly, this truly upset me. At the time, this led me to believe his death was imminent then, and I was too naïve to face that. I was still utterly distraught over losing my grandpa that I would not accept the possibility of losing my father, too. Thus, I put off learning the business for as long as possible. In March, this was all okay because there was no evidence of disease in his PET scan! I was relieved (amongst many other emotions) knowing that was really no reason then for me to have learned the business.
Fast forward to August when we learned that his cancer aggressively returned, we had a year to mature and grow, and his diagnosis brought even less hope than the year prior. Again, my dad stressed to me the importance that I learn how to manage the business. This time, I concurred. He spent many days teaching me all of the ins and outs, but I continued to tell him, “There’s probably no need for me to know this, you’ll be fine.” He continually affirmed, “Tomorrow is not promised for any of us, you need to know these things.” I learned how to run the business, and now that the first, first of the month without him is upon us, thank God I did.
This experience has taught me a lot, but foremost, I would like to stress one key point with you all: have the tough talks. I will say it again: have the tough talks. Have them while you are healthy and able. Be prepared for absolutely anything and everything. Now, in my time of grief, I cannot imagine trying to learn all of this without his guidance. There are many important things survivors needs to be prepared to handle, but here are a few key things. Yes, all of these are extremely uncomfortable to talk about, but I guarantee you they will be even more uncomfortable if these talks have not been had and it is too late.
- Funeral arrangements
- It is an excellent idea to have your/your loved one’s funeral planned, or at least well thought of, in advance of the passing. This includes location, cremation/burial and service or lack thereof, service details (i.e. readings, speakers, etc.), and where the body shall rest for eternal peace. When the time comes, you will want your meeting with the funeral director to be as easy as possible. You will be asked everything, down to choosing a casket or urn. This meeting is so much easier when all of these precise details have already been discussed.
- What bills need to be paid, what accounts do they need to be paid from, when do they need to be paid, are they paid electronically or by mail? Know all of these things like the back of your hand. As much as grief makes us feel frozen in time as we yearn for the cherished days with our loved one, the world keeps going. There is no pause for the bereaved. Typically, the head of the household is the one fluent in all of these seemingly routine details. Familiarize yourself with them also. In the event of an unexpected (or expected) loss, you will need to be able to remain fiscally accountable.
- Designated contact
- For me, saying any combination of the words “My dad passed away” is heart-wrenching. I can type it, but I cannot say those words. Thankfully, an amazing family member approached my mom and me to volunteer to say these words for us. She called everyone, even people she did not know, and told them the news as well as service information. It was a huge help to only have to give this information once and not be repeating those horrible words over and over again.
- Tip #2: If someone you know loses an immediate family member, volunteer to be this person. This is one of the biggest ways you can possibly help.
- An obituary is extremely hard to write. I never even thought about this before someone asked me about the obituary. What do you include, what do you not include? How long should it be? What paper should it be in and for how long? It is a good idea to have a document of your proudest achievements and successes to serve as a guide for grieving family members having to write this. Re-evaluate this document annually, updating it with new accolades.
If these four things are prepared in advance, your grieving process will be able to emphasize healing rather than stress. As uncomfortable, upsetting, and frightening as these talks may be, they will make an astronomic difference in the long run. Tomorrow is not promised for any of us, even the healthiest of us. Be prepared for the unthinkable before it is too late. Having the courage to learn and plan these things now will save you stress, time, and money in the future.
These last fourteen months, I have completely transformed from a nineteen year old little girl to a twenty year old woman as I have learned to embrace these four conversations. Grief is one of the most complex emotions to the human being, and it does not need to be complicated any more by preventable stressors.
Have the tough talks today.