What could have been done differently?

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):

  1. 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?
  2. A list of favorite things or memories would be wonderful to have.
  3. 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.
  4. Take as many pictures as possible with the family member who is sick in them.
  5. Take videos so the voice of the one who is ill is preserved.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.”
  8. Spend as much time holding hands as you can and love each other as hard as you can.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

13 thoughts on “What could have been done differently?

  1. Thank you, Abigail, for sharing this guidance from those who are grieving heart-wrenching loss. Bless their hearts for passing on to you what they wish they’d done, or maybe what they are grateful they did do before their loved one died. I’m going to take a hard look at this, because losing a loved one is sometimes totally unexpected. The overarching message to me is to not take any day, any moment for granted. Seal it in our hearts and minds, preserve it if possible for others to treasure, and be practical about how we manage our daily lives…think “cross-training” for the benefit of those who will need to carry on the “business” of life. Keeping you in my prayers 🙏❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful thoughts and words! My son wants to do a life video of his grandmother who’s 95 and reluctant to participate. So he asked if he could start with my husband (her son) and me. Now I’m thinking that he wants a video of me since I’m being murdered by cancer (love/hate that image).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have some letters that my sister wrote to me many years ago and I treasure them.
    I also have some recordings of her voice, another treasure.
    I do speak her name, everyday! It makes me feel close to her, she was my treasure!

    Thank you for sharing this, it is so appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My mom talks about death with some regularity. She’s seventy-nine, my Dad eighty, and a gigantic pituitary macroadenoma ( thankfully benign) has made the doctor appts quite a regular thing.

    She only wants to talk money, material assets, and makes a repetitive statement about wanting cremation for both of them. I’ve told her she has 5 minutes each time I visit to speak of death, advance directives, her wishes.

    I’ve recently given her a small notebook and asked for all passwords be placed in it for me.

    Some one asked me recently if I was getting prepared for the inevitable, considering their age, ( and my mom’s frequent A-Fib episodes.

    I like your ideas.

    Thank you.

    I don’t want to be a ” I wish I had…” person

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The last one: speak their name. You should never expect that they become forgotten. There is no such thing as closure. But there is acceptance and moving on.


  6. This is wonderful and timely advice. So many people are being murdered by coronavirus, and are dying alone. I never thought there could be a worse fate than what so many metastatic cancer patients have to look forward to, but COVID-19 has changed my mind. My husband and I have had the time to ask these questions, take these steps, and hope for much more time together. It’s a blessing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wonderful advice. I’m very practical and realistic. I have tried to get my adult children and husband to talk about what to do when I die (cause I’m Stage 4 and it’s coming even if my meds are working right now.) No one wants to discuss it. I know I won’t be there and should not care, but people always say “what would the dead person have wanted?” It’s hard to discuss, I get it. The best thing my parents did for us was to leave DETAILED instructions for their funerals. And they paid for it, too. That’s the kind of practicality I want to leave.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes!! My paternal grandparents had everything laid out and paid for. Took a huge load off of the family when they passed. I’m personally leaving a lot of letters and written instructions. 😉


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