I ask people this question regularly. Why? When I was actively practicing, while it’s good to solve a problem in the moment, it’s also super important to create a system to avoid that issue in the future. Now, I ask this question of surviving spouses all the time, especially when their spouse has been murdered by cancer. I ask this question now because I’m still not sure what to do to best prepare my family for my death, especially when I’m still coming to terms with it myself.
So, my list, gathered from multiple bereaved spouses is as follows (names and specific details have been redacted to respect confidentiality):
- Aside from the legal things we “should” have done before the cancer diagnosis like having a will or life insurance, the things I most wish we had done would be talking about what he expected of me. Should I plan to remarry at some point, etc? Does he want me to homeschool our daughter for all of her schooling? What are the most important things he wants me to remember to tell our daughter when she is bigger? Which traditions would he want us to be sure to continue?
- A list of favorite things or memories would be wonderful to have.
- If the one who is sick takes care of finances or paperwork, make sure the one left behind knows the passwords and locations of everything they will need.
- Take as many pictures as possible with the family member who is sick in them.
- Take videos so the voice of the one who is ill is preserved.
- Preserve the handwriting of the one who is ill. So few people write letters these days, but have your loved one write out important phrases and messages so you have some of their words in their handwriting.
- Some loved ones might think about following their loved one into death. Making sure to communicate that you want your loved ones to continue to live and to try and be happy when they can. In the words of one widow/widower: “Still living for him instead of struggling to find a reason to do so.”
- Spend as much time holding hands as you can and love each other as hard as you can.
- Spread the work. Addressing all of the details when a loved one has passed away can be daunting. One person shouldn’t take on the entire task. Doing many things takes a village and addressing the details after death is no different.
- Speak their name. After a loved one has died, sometimes it feels best to act as if it didn’t happen. However, experts agree that continuing to share about the loved one who has passed is an important part of the grieving process.
Grief is not linear. The phases of grief are often experienced over and over. No one has all the answers, but this will at least get you started.