There was one day in June when, for no nefarious reason, our office received a number of phone calls from people whose loved one had *just* passed away.
It was a striking number of calls for that particular Monday – enough to inspire that day’s Daily Debrief on Facebook. You can watch it HERE. I promised to follow up with a blog article to expand on the content a bit. And so here we are.
When I share client stories like these, about things that happen in our office (names changed because of course confidentiality comes FIRST) – it is without judgment or admonishment. When somebody dies, issues arise, whether your family behaves like Happy Days or Game of Thrones.
As Brene Brown says, “People are people are people.” It doesn’t matter who you are, or how high up the ‘food chain’, everyone makes mistakes, and everyone has baggage. So when I share these stories, it’s in the hopes that you might see yourself, and gain some insight through the experience of others who came before you.
But this isn’t the article you think it’s going to be. I’m not going to give you a checklist of stuff to DO. There are thousands of them on the internet already. AARP has a decent and pretty comprehensive one (although, reaching out to an attorney seems pretty far down on their list…):
For the people who picked up the phone that day to get some sage counsel, here’s how the conversation typically went. (Names have been changed.):
Client: “Hi Tracey, this is Shirley. My wife died yesterday. :: chokes back a small sob :: I need to know what to do.”
Me: “Oh Shirley, I’m so very, very sorry to hear this. Was this sudden or was Veronica ill for a period of time?”
Client: “She was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer a few months back. It was just so fast. And now I don’t know what to do. :: now crying ::”
Me: “Shirley, I get it. It’s all so unknown and foreign. And it super sucks [yes, I would say that to my clients. Let’s face it, because this situation does super suck.] I hope that at the very least her passing was peaceful and was what you both would have wanted for each other. Tell me about your last weeks and days with her. What do you remember most? What were some of the loving moments you shared?”
And the conversation goes on from there, sharing stories of touching moments and how Shirley will remember her last days with the love of her life.
It’s true that in the moments following the death of a loved one there are decisions to be made about organ donation, funerals, and obituaries. But after that, what’s next?
What I tell all my clients, and what I told Shirley, is the first and most important thing to do after a loved one dies is to take the time you need to grieve. There is nothing so urgent that it needs to be addressed immediately. Be with your family and close friends. Share stories of great memories.
And honestly, in those early stages of grief, whatever I tell you or ask you to do, you’re probably not going to remember anyway. The brain is far too busy to deal with it.
There’s a Jewish tradition I love. It’s called sheloshim (pronounced shlo-SHEEM, and also spelled shloshim). Many people are familiar with shiva, a period of intense mourning during the first seven days after the burial of a loved one. Sheloshim lasts until the 30th day after burial. During that time, one resumes normal social and professional activities, but as minimally as necessary. One also does not participate in social outings or celebrations.
A client of mine, upon the passing of her husband, told me that her family tradition was also to not touch, move or remove anything in the house belonging to the loved one. The idea behind this is to honor the need to mourn, and not require decisions. It’s also about recognizing that decisions during that time will be clouded by grief, and should be avoided lest we have regrets later. I think it’s a beautiful way to remember the loved one we lost, and honor our own need to move through the grief. That strikes me as downright smart.
Four years ago, Sheryl Sandberg (of Lean In fame, and former #2 at Facebook) suffered the sudden and unexpected loss of her husband Dave. She wrote an amazing article about her experience with sheloshim after his passing. You can read the full story HERE.
Here’s the biggest takeaway, in Sandberg’s words: “I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser.”
When you lose a loved one, call me anytime you’re ready. And don’t be surprised if I tell you that everything can wait. Take the time you need to mourn, and to become wiser in those moments.
If reading this leaves you motivated to finally formalize your will, trust or estate plan, here’s where you can start: CLICK HERE to let us know you’d like to hop on the phone. Easy peasy. No pressure, no judgment. Just talking to someone is the smartest first step to protecting and caring for your modern family.
And if you’d prefer to get to know us better before picking up the phone, make sure you follow us on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/IngleLaw.