After a few recent and unexpected deaths in several of my communities, I’ve been reflecting a lot about “the end” lately. I’ve realized that in certain ways, I’m lucky to know that I’m terminally ill. With a medical diagnosis, even of metastatic cancer, you get a suggested chunk of time you’ll still be on this earth from that prognosticator – the oncologist. Your time frame may start to disintegrate or may even extend depending on how long your body wants to cooperate with treatment.
And so I thought I’d share some of the things Tim and I have done to use that time effectively after my cancer returned in 2015. It took some time to get through them between the chemo and radiation and surgery and accompanying side effects, and some are still works in progress. But I can say, almost four years after my stage IV diagnosis, that getting these logistics ironed out early has helped us live in the moment and do things like visit London and see the Grand Canyon. And what you do now may help ease the pain for your friends and family after you’re gone.
- Meet with a lawyer. S/he can help with a will, a living will, power of attorney, and any trusts you might want to set up. If you have children, discuss guardianship if needed. We didn’t have any of this done before my diagnosis; now I thank God that we didn’t need it sooner.
- Talk about finances. Assess your life insurance benefits, investments, and financial obligations with your significant other or another designated person. The Internet police may disagree with me, but make note of all your critical usernames and passwords (and URLs, if necessary) for that person so they can access and/or close your accounts as needed. It might also be a good time to visit with a financial planner if you don’t already have one.
- Reach out. See the people that are special to you while you can. If that’s not possible, stay in touch online or pick up the phone. If there are things you want to say to them after you’re gone, write notes to them to be distributed at that time.
- Visit a funeral home. It may sound morbid, I know. But even if you plan on getting cremated, it’s still beneficial to get some idea of what services are available and to share that with your spouse or whoever else you want to entrust your final wishes to. If you have a pretty firm idea of where and how you want things to go, some funeral homes will allow you to put down an advance deposit or enter a payment plan.
- Leave your family a list of your memorial wishes. Do you want a traditional funeral or a memorial service? Do you have a preference on an urn or a coffin (see above). Would you like certain music to play or pictures to be displayed? Would you like visitors to donate to a given charity versus sending flowers? Should there be specific religious practices incorporated? In addition to helping guide your family during a difficult time, the service will be more reflective of your personality and life.
- Leave notes and images for your obituary and any memorial service handout, if needed. (Or write it yourself, said the editor). But do leave room for people who are important to you to have input. Make sure you tell the person who will be managing this for you what your expectations are.
- Thin down your “stuff.” Spark it up like Marie Kondo and keep your keepsakes, but purge what you don’t use. There are plenty of charitable organizations that will come and pick it up at your home. As for those special items that you plan to “pass down” one day, do it now instead of later. If you want to give a piece of jewelry to your niece, do it while you’re still on this earth so you can tell her what it means to you. It’s so much nicer than leaving a list with a lawyer. Or worse yet, having your relatives argue about who gets what (I want to stress to my family that I’m not talking about YOU guys).
Do you have additional items you think should be on the list? Post them in Comments below.
And if you came here to find out how I’m holding up, I don’t have much additional news. Ativan, Herceptin, and Perjeta seem to be doing the tumor-stopping trick for now, and it’s just the usual dance with side effect control (latest weird thing – bicep pain – and it’s definitely not from lifting weights). We’ve been working with different doses of steroids to try and alleviate that. I have another brain MRI happening in about a month and I’ll keep you all posted on the results.