A little over a year ago, I lost my wife—the love of my life of nearly ten years—to a two-year battle with breast cancer. She didn’t go down without a fight. She didn’t go down without a story. She didn’t go down without making those around her better for knowing her. She didn’t go down without teaching us all how to live and love better.
I don’t know why she chose me to do life with. Maybe it was my persistence and the ten years of chasing her that did it? Maybe it was the fact that I’d recently moved to Hawaii and only then did she show real interest in me? Maybe it was that I just took a little while to grow on her and eventually she actually liked me? I don’t know what it was, and I really don’t care. I’m just so lucky that I got to do life with her. I’m so lucky that she chose me. And the fact that I got to have a front-row seat to watch her live her life for those almost ten years that we were married, makes me the luckiest dude on the planet.
There are a million and one stories I could tell you about the impact that Rachel’s life had on those around her. And maybe one day I’ll tell them all. But today I want to share with you some of the things that Rachel and I talked about after finding out she was going to die. You see, no one wants to know when they are going to die. But when you know you’re going to die, there is something special about that time you have with one another. Small stuff just doesn’t matter anymore. Heck, most stuff just doesn’t matter anymore. When each day could be your last day, you really appreciate each day so much more.
One of the most amazing things about Rachel was her selflessness. And from the moment we found out that there was nothing more the doctors could do, all she thought about was what she could do to make everyone else okay in preparation for her heading to her eternal home. We never stopped praying for a miracle, and we knew that God could do big things. But we also knew we had to prepare for life without Rachel. She made things so much easier than they would have been because she forced us to have the “hard” conversations.
Not everyone is forced into having the talks that Rachel and I had in those last few months. We didn’t have a choice. You do. And I hope you choose to do it. I hope you choose to act. I hope you choose to have these super-uncomfortable conversations because they matter. And they make the “business side” of death so much easier for the one left behind.
So on the next date night with your spouse, I’m going to encourage you to talk about death. Yep, super-romantic, isn’t it? But don’t worry, I’m going to make it easy for you because I did it already and you can blame it on me.
Here are the five things you should discuss with your spouse or a loved one that would make end-of-life decisions for you. There are probably a ton more, but this is a really good start. This will get the conversation going:
1) Final wishes. I didn’t know Rachel had strong feelings about her “final wishes” until she told me. And I’m so glad she told me. Rachel even went so far as to make a “Memorial playlist”—making sure she got the music she wanted at her celebration of life. I don’t know if this was her way of telling me that she didn’t like my choice of music, but either way, I’m so glad she did this. Does your spouse want to be buried or cremated? If they choose cremation, where do they want their ashes spread? What would they like the service to look and feel like? And yes, even questions like, would they want to have Bon Jovi and MJ played at their memorial?
2) Documents and stuff. I handled most of the paperwork in our marriage, but I’ve heard horror stories of spouses who suddenly lost loved ones and couldn’t access bank accounts, credit cards, loans, utilities, and many other things because only one name was listed on these accounts. Or the living spouse didn’t have the passwords to access them. Are both of your names on these things? Do you have the passwords you need should something happen? If not, I’d get that done. It’ll save you a ton of time, money, and stress in the long run.
3) Life Insurance. There is a good chance one of you has life insurance. Usually, the breadwinner does. And oftentimes the other doesn’t. Get life insurance. Today. For both spouses. Not just the one who earns the most money or has the most earning potential. Get life insurance for both of you. Think about that for a minute. If one spouse stays home, takes care of the kids, does all the household duties, runs the errands, and handles all of the day-to-day stuff, and one day they aren’t there anymore, does that stuff just take care of itself? Do you have life insurance? Does your spouse have life insurance? Do you both have enough life insurance?
4) Name your people. I was a really involved dad before Rachel passed, but I still didn’t know where the kids went to the doctor. I didn’t know who cut the girls’ hair. I didn’t know their dentist’s name or when they needed to go to their first eye appointment. Rachel made sure these things were taken care of. She not only rounded up people to help me with these things, but she also made sure I knew who these people were. Who takes care of vehicle maintenance? Who is your plumber? Pediatrician? Electrician? Name your people. All your people.
5) Memories. Rachel got to record a book for the kids with her voice. I still haven’t given it to them. I’m going to hang on to it for a little while. I think I’ll know when the right time is to give it to them. I’m just so glad I have it. Write a letter. Shoot a video. Do something for your kids and your spouse. I realize this may be hard, but this is something you’ll never regret doing. Get it done. Tuck it away. And make sure your spouse knows where it is and how to access it should they ever need it.
I realize this stuff isn’t fun to talk about, and I’m sorry to throw this on you. But I’m so grateful that Rachel and I were able to spend our final date nights, even while we were in the hospital, discussing these “hards.” Because of her selflessness and because of her willingness to talk about the hard stuff, she made life for the kids and me much more manageable than it ever should have been.
Do me a favor. Actually, do your family a favor, and make sure to have these “date night” conversations. I promise that you’ll all be better for it.