In Loving Memory of Christina C. Henrick
(December 27, 1949-April 28, 2017)
May 24, 2017
While this is extremely hard for me to write, I think it is important to share my personal experience in order to hopefully prevent others from suffering what I have just gone through.
I am an only child and my parents are divorced. In June of 2016, my maternal grandmother passed away at the age of 93. In March of 2017, my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer. She had no symptoms other than an occasional cough- believed to be sinus related, and testing was done to rule out pneumonia. Needless to say, we were not prepared for this diagnosis and neither were her doctors.
After getting over the initial shock, my mother told me she didn’t have a Will or Power of Attorney. The last thing either of us wanted to do was to think about her death. We had more important things to do-find an oncologist, figure out the best treatment options, spend quality time together, travel, cross things off her bucket list, color Easter eggs, and get caught up on Madam Secretary. And yet, here I was, faced with asking my mother questions I could barely get through without breaking into tears. Burial instructions? End of life decisions? Assets and debt information? Answering those questions wasn’t any easier for my mother. I ended up drafting a bare-bones estate plan, just to have something in place. She said we would discuss further details later and she would write everything down for me.
I wouldn’t prepare an estate plan like this for my clients, let alone my family. But, thinking of her death was too much for either of us to bear, given her terminal diagnosis. It is far easier to talk about death abstractly, when it’s the last thing on your mind. I did my estate plan years ago and my mother knew exactly what my wishes were and where everything was. I even picked out my urn and detailed how I want my ashes spread. I wrote down all of my asset information, account numbers, logins and passwords, monthly bills, auto pay details, emergency contacts, medications, vet information and instructions for placing my pets if they outlived me. I didn’t do this because I’m an estate attorney. I did it to make my mother’s life easier if I became incapacitated or died before her. I didn’t want her to have to figure all this out on her own while going through the grieving process. I clearly remember that conversation with my mother. She was reluctant at first to talk about my death or illness, but we ended up laughing about the logistics of dividing my ashes between my parents since they couldn’t even be in the same room together.
Unfortunately, my mother did not get the opportunity to discuss any of these details with me. I was forced to make split-second medical decisions. I had to deal with her financial affairs, none of which I knew anything about. I had to plan a funeral, not knowing all of her wishes, and make difficult decisions when her wishes were impossible to achieve. I have to read every piece of paper I come across in her house, to piece together her estate-and my mother has paperwork dating all the way back to the 70’s. I have to do all of this while grieving.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the norm of how these things go and many find themselves in a similar situation. My mother always put others before herself, so while she made sure my grandmother had an estate plan in place and kept her records in meticulous order, her own affairs were put on the backburner. If I could turn back the clock, I would have sat down with my mother after my grandmother passed away and put a proper estate plan in place like I did for myself. Then at least these decisions wouldn’t have taken center stage to the comforting, consoling and grieving that occurs during the end of life.
Do your loved ones the favor of tackling the sensitive and uncomfortable issue of estate planning, so they don’t have to. It may feel like a burden, but it truly is a selfless gift.
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