This is the time of year when people tend to take stock. Reflect on the year that has passed. Imagine the year that may lie ahead. It’s a time for resolutions, goal setting and clean calendars.
One way I love to document the passing of the year and to capture the hopes of a new one is by writing in my Christmas Journal. It was a gift from my Mom nearly ten years ago. In addition to my annual entry, I use it to capture little greetings and notes from those who visit our home during the holidays. With its ribbon and poinsettia bedazzled cover, it’s the last of the bits and pieces of Christmas that gets tucked away every January.
This year’s record will be more difficult to write than most.
Barely a week old, 2014 has already been marked by the passing of two very dear people in my life. They both were strong, beautiful and courageous women who made an impression on everyone whose lives they touched. The heartache and void that their untimely passing has left is profound.
It’s hard to make sense of it all.
In my line of work, I talk to people everyday about taking care of their loved ones financially in the event of death. Although I am not a lawyer, I also regularly encourage people to ensure they have an up to date Will and have considered things like appointing a Power of Attorney and drafting a Living Will. Some take my advice. But I suspect many more do not and that making an appointment with a lawyer goes on that long list of resolutions they will not keep.
I vividly recall when my husband and I met with a lawyer to draft our Will. At the time, we had only one child and we were about to go on our first trip without baby in tow. As relatively new parents, we were terrified at the prospect of something happening and us not returning from our little get away. Before the meeting, we discussed issues of guardianship, insurance policies and how our few worldly possessions would be handed down. We felt prepared.
We were not.
Like most, we had only considered what our wishes were when we died: the black and white. Our lawyer gently asked us to consider the grey: the decisions that would have to be made if we were alive but unable to make decisions for ourselves. Who would we trust to act on our behalf? What wishes would we want carried out? Also, had we considered the type of funeral we preferred? Burial or cremation? Phrases such as “advance healthcare directive” and “health care proxy” were defined and explained. I can assure you it was a very uncomfortable conversation that neither of us will soon forget. But it was also very reassuring and we both realized it was necessary.
I believed then - and I have witnessed many times since - that it is a true gift to the people we love to have those uncomfortable conversations before a tragedy occurs. I am adamant that it is important for each and every one of us – regardless of age, health or circumstances - to work through those grey scenarios with a lawyer and to document our final requests. It’s also important to tell the people we love and trust that we have done so. After all, they will be the ones left to pick up the pieces.
I know – beyond any doubt - that making those decisions ourselves and lifting that burden from a grieving parent, partner or friend is a resolution that is definitely worth keeping.