Some say that death is the ultimate motivator. I have to disagree. Death in and of itself results in a very little getting done, at least by the person succumbing to it.
The prospect of death is where motivation really comes into effect. It can turn even the biggest procrastinators into highly efficient machines. Largely because the prospect of death by its sheer nature invites one of the most powerful human emotions into play.
Whether we would like to admit it or not, we all fear death to varying degree’s.
This summer I got an unpleasant reminder of just how powerful this emotion can be.
I found a lump. To be more accurate, my 2 year old son, in a moment of roughhousing, landed squarely on my chest while I was laying down, making me suddenly and acutely aware of said lump, as well as short on breath.
I tend to be rather pragmatic about my health, I operate on the assumption that most things are nothing to be concerned about. Wise or not, I quickly attributed the mass, and the mild discomfort it generated to a particularly intense upper body workout I’d undertaken the previous day.
No big deal – just muscles tearing, rebuilding, and some lactic acid build up – right?. But in the far reaches at the back of my mind I made a mental note that I should probably keep an eye on this situation.
A month went by, yup still there. But hey – I was still upping the anti each week on those chest work outs, so my excuse still seemed plausible. In my own mind anyway.
Another month went by, and I could no longer ignore the issue. It wasn’t going away, quite the opposite actually. I relented. Time to see the doctor.
It’s not that I don’t like doctor’s. I do. But if there’s one thing I struggle with, it’s wasted time, and I have yet to meet a doctor who’s waiting room I don’t sit in for at least an hour past my scheduled appointment time. Painful.
Sure, I bring a book, or a read an article (or ten), or listen to a podcast. But if I wasn’t sitting in a doctor’s waiting room (where I’m sure there is a plethora of contagions I would rather not think about) I could instead be reading my book or listening to a podcast in a much more pleasant environment.
Like in the rocking chair on my front porch, with a coffee in hand.
I went to see my doctor. I went to the appointments for the preliminary tests he recommended. I waited for the results. Inconclusive.
So I went to the follow-up consultation with the specialist, and I’ll wait for the follow-up tests that are now going to be scheduled, and then I’ll wait for those results.
Super fun stuff.
The logical part of my brain is not worried. Odds are very high that all will turn out to be uneventful, and even if it’s not, the odds still remain high that things would be very treatable.
(Or so my extensive google searches have informed me. Don’t judge, we all do it, even when we know we really, really, shouldn’t.)
But it’s not that logical part of my brain that has intrigued me. It’s the fear part. The little corner of my brain that, in spite of my understanding of the numbers and stats related to the frequency of malignancy in tumors, or the high rates of survivability even when it is cancer, that little corner that still manages to wriggle its way down a rather dark thought process.
Initially I tried to fight it. Often by having a rather harsh internal dialogue with myself, reminding myself that I am far from melodramatic, don’t yet have nearly enough information to even worry about the situation, and need to simply wait patiently for the totality of the results. Mmhmmm……easier said than done logical brain!
But as my practical mind was arm wrestling my emotional mind for alpha position, I thought, hey, why not just follow this thought process through. Let’s just bring this fear out into the open. Maybe try my best to keep from becoming emotional about it, but practically, let’s follow this thing to its worst case end.
And an amazing thing happened. Rather than fuelling my fears, it was calming, almost therapeutic. I recognized that I had a family full of people who I knew I could count on to step up in anyway I needed. That was comforting.
I knew that Mike and I had built the financial freedom that would allow us to focus on what even the worst case diagnosis would entail, and because of that, I would have the luxury of being able to fight it with everything I’ve got. (And I can be pretty darn scrappy – just warning you lump, you might want to back down from this one!)
And as I walked my way to the worst case outcome, I realized that those same amazing people who would be there to support me in anyway they could, would also be there for Mike and my kids, even if life decided that I wouldn’t be.
In fact – our intense pursuit of Financial Freedom, and our desire to have multiple back up plans, meant I had nothing to worry about. My family would be just fine.
At the end of this thought process, the fear had been replaced by a much stronger emotion. Gratitude.
Gratitude for the opportunities that we’ve had, the life we’ve worked hard to build, and the amazing people that surround us.
That on its own was a big enough reason to go through this process. But the benefits didn’t stop there. Thinking about worst case scenarios led me to examine what I would need to address if I was dying, and the inevitable conclusion that I should address those things now – in the event that death doesn’t give me a friendly forewarning period.
A Good Reminder
In undertaking this thought process, I realized that Mike and I have done a pretty good job of consistently sharing our financial information with each other. When it comes to our money, there is very little that Mike wouldn’t have immediate and ready access to if I were to die.
We’ve ensured that we are each other’s named beneficiaries on various policies and our respective pensions. All of our major accounts are held jointly (with right of survivorship) so that we would each have immediate access to the funds in the event the other person passed away (removing the necessity for the funds to pass through probate or incur estate taxation).
We keep each other closely apprised of the respective expenses we each manage, and how those payments are made. Accounts as simple as our gas, phone bills, internet and hydro are held jointly, so there would be no concern about having to make phone calls to a long list of businesses in order to change account holder/payment information.
Overall, from a financial point of view, Mike would have little to worry about in the event of my death, and vice versa. Most importantly, he wouldn’t be forced financially to have to make any major life decisions or changes in his or our boys lives, until they were ready to do so. But this was a good reminder to continue to stay on top of these areas of our finance, and maintain our communication in relation to these topics.
After all, if you were to die unexpectedly, who want’s their spouse having to comb through their financial statements and make a bunch of phone calls to various utility companies in order to keep the lights on and bills being paid? Or even worse, be forced into a move.
A Kick In The Pants
During this reflection it also became painfully clear that I needed to to do something that I had been procrastinating for over two years.
Update my will. Ugh.
Mike and I have been talking about updating our wills since our youngest was born, and yet, despite having talked things through umpteen times, we cannot seem to get ourselves to metaphorically put pen to paper by scheduling the appointment.
I think this is because we’ve spent far too much time trying to come up with the perfect terms that will ensure we won’t have to think about updating our wills for many, many years to come.
That might be totally doable if it was just Mike or I who were to die. That’s easy. But if it’s both of us, that’s a whole other ball of wax. The reality is – with small children, everything changes. Who do you pick as guardians? Maybe the right guardian now isn’t the right one a couple years from now? Maybe your selected guardians life circumstances, or health changes, and they aren’t able to fulfill that role anymore? Is it better for the kids to be able to stay in their own home if possible, or have to uproot them to go elsewhere? How can we ensure they stay together, so they would still have each other?
So many questions, so many variables – zero perfect answers.
But what I was finally able to come to terms with, is that with young children, writing the perfect will and tucking it away and not worrying about it for years down the road is a total pipe dream. At the very least, we should plan to review our wills annually to ensure that our wishes are still feasible, that they still work with the changes and needs of our boys, and the changes and needs of their potential guardians.
So rather than agonizing about how to future-proof my will, resulting in my current degree of procrastination in just doing it, I realized that I need only answer these difficult questions for the immediate future. What works now, with the current known information?
By reviewing it annually, we would then commit to updating it anytime something became obsolete, or a change in circumstances necessitated it. Suddenly – the task doesn’t seem quite so daunting. No more procrastinating.
A New Idea
While contemplating death is not exactly pleasant in and of itself – doing so inevitably led me to wonder about one of the most unpleasant aspects of it all. The moments I would miss in my kids lives. If I wasn’t there – I would certainly want them to know just how desperately I wished I could be. I’d particularly want to be able to remind them of what all parents want their kids to know – how much I love them.
I know other people would tell them – but that just doesn’t seem like enough. How could I be there for them – even if I wasn’t there for them?
Ironically – I have long bought a go to baby gift for my friends showers that consists of a small time capsule called “Letters To My Baby” (There’s also a Letter’s to My Son/Daughter versions available).
It is a small bound booklet of 12 or so letters along with sealable envelopes titled with various topics/prompts. It’s intended for the mother/father to write letters from their current perspective, to their children, to be opened at special moments as they grow.
While I have long loved the beauty of the idea, and think it’s such a special gift, I’ve never thought about the value letters like that could have if a child’s parent passed away. What it might mean to them to read their parents hopes for them, their biggest piece of advice, or favourite memories from their first years.
Despite the fact that I have bought this gift for well over a dozen other moms-to-be, I’ve never filled out a booklet for my own kids. Many times I’ve bought them to fill out – and then ended up giving them away when I needed a baby shower gift.
Again – time to stop procrastinating. The booklets have been ordered. And to ensure I don’t give them away this time – I’m writing in them the day I receive them (even if it’s as simple as writing my kids names in them!!)
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, none of us know how much time we have to spend with our loved ones.
We all know this obvious fact – but few of us really live our lives as though its true.
And I’m not talking about throwing caution (and financial restraint) to the wind, and living your days as though you won’t have another. But rather living a life that balances the present against your plans for the future, WHILE having the foresight to identify the potential pitfalls and challenges your absence could mean for your spouse, and for your kids. Then, doing everything you can – while you can, to mitigate the impact that will inevitably occur in their lives were you to die.
Have you talked to your partner about what would happen if you were to die and vice versa? Have you left each other with clear instructions about any area’s of finance that you each independently manage, or ensured you both can have ready access to the funds needed if either of you were to unexpectedly pass away? There is no better time than now to ensure you are both on the same page with each others wishes, intentions, financials in the event either of you were to die.
Rather than avoiding the topic of death, by thinking about it intentionally, we harness the motivation to act that death can inspire, while simultaneously removing the need to fear its arrival. A major step in moving towards total freedom.