My much beloved father-in-law died suddenly and unexpected a few weeks ago. As I shared on my personal facebook page, I was a daddy's girl who lost her gregarious father at 14. At 21, I met my father-in-law who, if I couldn't have my dad, well he was the next best thing. The separation and shock, like every loss of a loved one, is indescribably tough.
My husband put this together a few days ago and all of these non-legal lessons are just as important as all the stuff we lawyers learn in our wills and trusts classes. Here's a republication of what he wrote.
As I'm processing my father's way too early passing, I thought I'd share some of the lessons I learned. If these are useful to anyone, I can at least find some additional purpose in all this.
1. Know your final wishes. Know the final wishes of your loved ones. I am so relieved my mom and I knew what my dad had in mind for his funeral. Nothing was written down, but just weeks before he died, my parents were on their way back from my uncle's funeral and happened to discuss their own ideas. If it wasn't for that conversation, my mom and I would have had a major headache on our hands last week.
2. Don't put off conversations about death until you're old or your loved ones are old. My dad was ripped out of our midst at 66. No one saw it coming, including him. My goal is for Jen and I to have things discussed by the end of the year. This includes simple things, such as "Would you be able to handle finances after I'm gone?", "Would you know all our passwords?", "Would you know where to find our will?", "Would you know what home/car maintenance is coming up?", "Would you know how to get a hold of key family members and friends?", "When is the kids' next check-up?", etc. Simple things that could turn into big problems, if you have to start from scratch.
3. Don't be strong for anyone. The advice to be strong after your dad dies is not always fitting. My dad died. I don't want to be strong. I want to cry and let out my emotions, too. Sure, my mom and I are leaning on each other for strength, but we each grieve differently and should each be able to not have to worry about how the other expresses it. Truth be told, it probably won't really hit either one of us until I return to the U.S., which will be the real beginning of the new normal.
4. Lean on your support system. My mom and I are fortunate to have a massive support system in place, thanks to family and a huge circle of friends. Many are offering to help in different ways... to listen, to take care of certain paperwork, to help haul stuff, to cook meals. Take advantage of it and don't be shy to ask for help. It also lets the person offering the help grieve in their own way.
5. Take pictures of your loved ones. My mom and I had to pick a picture of my dad to be put up next to the urn at the funeral service. Thanks to our photo-happy family, this was easy to do, but from now on I'll always have a pic or two in mind in advance. Do you?
6. Let people know where you are. In my dad's case, my mom and I knew where he was. He was hiking on a marked trail and talked to my mom via cell phone just an hour before he was found. But he was alone. It's questionable if anything could have been done if anyone had been there. Even though knowing where my dad was and being able to reach him likely didn't make a difference, it could mean the difference between life and death for others.
7. Cherish every visit, every conversation. I last saw my dad when we came to Germany in May. I last talked to him the day before he died. I now regret that I was kind of short with him and suggested we chat more the next day, as Jen, the kids and I were about to go on a bike trip in Lanesboro. That next conversation never happened.
8. Show compassion. My dad was a master at this. He was able to build relationships with anybody. He put himself last and had a hard time saying no. I'm proud to have been carrying on that legacy already. But most importantly, this compassion will come back at you manifold in the situation my mom and are facing now. My dad cared about everybody, and now everybody is caring about us as a way of saying thank you.
9. Don't try to find all answers. Learn to live with the questions. My mom and I have been struggling with the big WHY. We don't know why my dad died or why it happened so early and suddenly. Even when we find out the official cause of death, we will likely never know why things played out the way they did. It's extremely hard to accept, but we know we have to. We try to focus on the happy memories and tuck away the what if's.
10. Grieve how you see fit, not how society might expect. My mom and I have talked a lot about how people might expect how we should grieve. Should we wear black? Can we watch TV? Can we laugh? Can we get groceries like normal? Should we act like nothing happened? We quickly realized that unless we shed ourselves of any societal pressures, the grieving process will only get more difficult. If we feel like laughing, we'll laugh. If we feel like watching a comedy show, we will. The point is only we know how to best process this horrible turn in our life. Advice from anybody should be taken with a grain of salt.