May 29, 2012

Death Frets: Catless Edition

Do you remember when our cat died and it put me into a morbid, death-considering, not-really-cat-related thought process for awhile? Last week my father-in-law died suddenly (likely from a heart attack), and that event has tipped me into another such thinkhole.

If you remember him from previous posts (in that last one, I compare him to Britney Spears), you'll know we aren't wearing black arm bands; we're more startled-but-relieved, and grateful that his body was coincidentally found quickly. My sad-spectrum feelings have mostly been pity-based, for how a life can look when it's put in a packet at the end like this (he spent pretty much the whole thing lamenting his unappreciated potential), and for how he lived it so that his kids aren't sad and don't want to have a service for him. And then of course I've been Margaret-you-mourn-for-ing that maybe my life will look sad when it's all packeted up and that my children won't want to have a service for me and that they'll be nothing but relieved when I die.

I'm also fretting because this means both Paul's parents died of heart attacks in their sixties. That looks a bit grim for Paul's future.

And I'm fretting because we JUST finished my mother-in-law's estate (it took over two years), and now ANOTHER one! This one at least looks like it will be less complicated: the most likely final outcome is that we will split with Paul's sister the cost of cremation and the cost of hiring someone to carry decades of hoarding out of an apartment, and that there will be nothing valuable to have to figure out how to divide.

I feel weird that the kids have already lost two grandparents, even though I know that's more common than what happened with me, which is that I didn't start losing grandparents until after I had children. The kids themselves were only slightly weirded: they'd never met this grandfather or had any contact with him, so it was more of a theoretical impact on their emotions.

I'm also fretting because of something my mom told me once, about how when all four of my grandparents had died, she realized she was in the next group lined up to go.

Because my father-in-law's death was so sudden, as was Paul's mother's, it's made me feel out-of-proportion-to-likelihood anxious that I will die suddenly. I was lying awake fretting intensely about this ("IT COULD HAPPEN ANY SECOND!!"), so I decided to try doing some psych solution I read about somewhere, which was to try to figure out which parts scared me, and then divide those into "Anything I can do something about" and "Anything I can't," in the hopes of reducing the fret-spiral.

One of the things making me scared was picturing people finding my body, and that maybe I would look gross or awful or scary or contorted or horrifying or stare-eyed or whatever. That has to go into "Anything I can't": there isn't anything I can do about that part except to remember that everyone is in the same boat on that one, and to remember that when people find a body they go into Emergency Mode and aren't really prioritizing details of what someone looks like. They're probably thinking more like "OMG DEAD OMG DEAD." Plus, lots of people die in such a way that "find" is not the applicable verb. So.

Another thing upsetting me was what we're facing with my father-in-law, which is that we don't even know if/where he has accounts, or where his important papers are, or if he has a safe deposit box, or if/where he has a will, or ANYTHING. And that's a fret I CAN do something about, so yesterday I took some first steps. I made an "In Case of Death" file folder for the filing cabinet. I made a dated list (dated so I and anyone else would know how recently it had been updated) of all our accounts (bank, stocks, CDs, life insurance, retirement), and made a list of everyone's Social Security numbers, and mentioned the weird place I keep the checkbook for my personal account, and mentioned where I keep the key to the fireproof safe.

I might have missed an account or helpful detail, but at least I know I put down MOST of them. I had to override the impulse to leave it for the hypothetical Future Me who would know everything I should do to make The Perfect Nothing-Missing List, and who furthermore wouldn't mind doing the task at ALL and would in fact be EAGER to do so. Anything is better than nothing. Writing down ONE SINGLE account number is better than nothing. MAKING THE FOLDER is better than nothing: even just having that folder IN EXISTENCE helps motivate me to put things into it. My plan is to let my annual morbid birthday thoughts trigger me to update the information each year---but if I don't, this one list is still better than nothing.

I also worked on a "Notify" list, because it was upsetting to me that Paul and his sister don't even know if there's anyone they should contact about their dad's death. Does he have friends? belong to a church? play bingo? No one knows. And there are a few people I don't think my family would know to contact. But it was a little depressing to go through my address book and realize with how few people it matters if they hear it right away or just find out on Facebook.


d e v a n said...

Oh! How shocking!
The "in case of death" folder is a great idea.

Saly said...

Yes, I know this feeling well as Hub's parents have both died, somewhat unexpectedly within the last 3 years.

Dealing with both of their estates, or the lack thereof, has been probably the worst thing we've ever dealt with. And as much as it makes me have to think about my own mortality, it's kicked us in to high gear to have our planning in place. I don't ever want my kids to have to worry about where or how to bury us. (shudder)

Long ago, I told myself that I would try to not think about dying until my parents were dead and gone. Until I was next in line. But the older I get, the more I feel like it could happen anytime, and it sucks.

I'm sorry you guys are going through this, and I'm thinking of you both. XO

Kris said...

Do you have copies of your wills in your folder? You might want to consider that, too.

I had to take an estates & probate class in college, and one assignment was that everyone had to Make A Will - woo hoo, a mass will-signing!

LizScott said...

I am sure you already know this, but it feels like something that can't hurt to be repeated by an observing party:

I cannot imagine that you or Paul would die in the same (emotional) way that his parents did; it seems to me that you are purposefully creating a life and family that ensures that WOULDN'T happen. It's not like your father-in-law died and only then were Paul and his sister like "hey, you know what's interesting? I feel relatively dismissive towards our relationship" -- no, that type of thing is decades in the making. There is absolutely no way your children could ever randomly get to that place, not with the consideration and love you so clearly have in your home (even if the teenage units disagree at the moment)

The 'In Case of Death' file: love it. But if I can assvice you for a second ... would it be better kept in a safety deposit box, so that in case of home break in the thieves do not have immediate access to consolidated financial information?

swimmermom said...

The post title made me laugh out loud. And I really liked your observation about people dying in such a way that "'find' is not the applicable verb." What a funny and perfect way to put it.

Nowheymama said...

Wow. Wow.

Paul, go get a physical to make us all feel better.

[And I sincerely hope this doesn't lead to more sister awkwardness, but I beg you to blog about it if it does.]

Rayne of Terror said...

That's a great idea and something I tell all my will & poa clients to do. If you have a lock box at the bank, make sure someone trustworthy knows generally where the key is kept. Like, I keep it in the kitchen taped under a drawer - or something similar. Feel free to tell the lawyer that drafted your wills too. He or she can put a note in your file.

Another thing you have (some) control of -- Paul getting regular checkups. My dad comes from a long line of early heart attacks and he has had several, but all survivable because he is (mostly) on top of his health.

Life of a Doctor's Wife said...

Oh Swistle. I'm so sorry for all the fretting. I hate so much that "growing older" becomes more and more about "growing closer to death." Blech. Morbid and depressing and yet unavoidable. But I do love the way you're breaking the frets into "can control" and "can't control." That seems very smart.

HereWeGoAJen said...

Would you please blog everything you put into your "in case of death" folder because I have been fretting over mine and so far all I have accomplished is writing what I want on my headstone and sticking it into my desk drawer. (And if I die suddenly, would you please tell Matt that it is in my desk drawer? Or actually, at that point, I will be dead, so I don't care what is on my headstone actually.) Anyway, my anniversary present for us this year is going to be to get all this sorted out. (I know, I am SO romantic.)

My crazy, no-black-armbands uncle died suddenly (in his forties, I think) and no one found him coincidentally for far too long. In Florida. In the summer. In a mobile home. So there was that.

Any kind of death can be stressful, even if it isn't totally a sad thing. I hope there is some calm and normal there soon for you.

artemisia said...

I have been thinking of putting together such a folder, and it was triggered by Buster's passing. Weird.

I am sorry for your situation. It is one without an easily recognizable emotional path. I am sure it is still stressful, if not overwhelmingly sad.

Slim said...

I am back from my middle child's therapy appointment. Today I chatted with a woman whose high-school age daughter was there because her father had died of a heart attack. The daughter found him. The woman said she and her husband hadn't made wills because they thought they were too young to need them. BUT her husband had made a list of all his passwords, and that was very useful.
So. Make wills. Create a list of passwords. Give copies to Trusted Sources, or hide them somewhere in your house and tell the Trusted Sources where to find them.
DO NOT put this stuff in a safe deposit box unless you are sure someone will be able to get into your safe deposit box -- sometimes, only the executor of the will can do that, or an heir, and if there will that names those people is locked in the box -- well, you see the problem.
You can file a copy of your will at the county courthouse so anyone who needs to can get to it. (At least, I think you can. My FIL did that with his will.)

Above all, LizScott has it pegged. You are not creating a life that will result in no one caring whether you're alive (or is actually relieved you're not). But if you want to invite us all over for SwistleHer, you know how many of us would be up for that.

Anonymous said...

Just letting you know I got your Margaret-you-mourn-for reference -- I LOVE your writing, though this is my first comment here. Good advice about The Folder -- I haven't done that yet because, frankly, it's kinda creepy to me (I have pretty bad anxiety issues), but one of these days ... Anyway, keep up the awesome blogging!

Judith said...

I think you've already covered quite a bit of ground, Swistle. I wouldn't want to keep this list in a place where it could be found by an intruder though. And I agree with the others: you have created a life for yourself where it's close to impossible that you'll end up like Paul's dad. There are heaps of people you love and who love you back and will be sad when you are gone. He lived his life how he created it, and he died the way he created it. So will you, with your life.

About the estate planning, I remembered there was an article on about exactly thisit:

It also has a lot of comments with even more ideas.

And in the forums there's also an interesting discussion thread:

One book recommended there is "Estate Planning Smarts" by Deborah Jacobs (just found it there, haven't read it).

I recently wrote down all my passwords and for email accounts and the like, because half of my life is in there and if you die, the providers can just close the accounts and don't have to grant your family access. Which is alright on the one hand for privacy reasons, but a real bummer if you don't mind if your family can access them later to save some of your personal history. Many people don't write letters anymore which used to be something that would tell stories of their life after they died. It's all hidden in emails nowadays.

Amanda said...

I'm sorry about your FIL. My father also died quite suddenly and there were a lot of decisions to be made. It's hard going through that.

You've got some great ideas. I should probably follow your just in case folder idea.

Please put us in the folder. You know...we'd like to know. Is that weird? This is an undiscussed bloggy area.

Tess said...

Ooo, I'm with Amanda, I want to know the Blogging Policy on death. I think if I died I would like someone to post about it on my blog. Maybe not even my husband, but another blogger within the circle of trust? That would be cool. A lot of pressure for the blogger, but hey, not my problem.

cakeburnette said...

This is probably completely inappropriate to post, but I laughed and laughed at the old back posts about your FIL. They sound so much like the relationship my husband and I have had with his mother. So, basically I just wanted to tell you thank you for perfectly expressing much of my 18 year-relationship with my monster-in-law. Oh, and condolences or whatever is appropriate in this case.

Anonymous said...

(leaving this anonymous because some members of my family are touchy about medical history info)

My husband's father died of a heart attack at age 52. His grandfathers both died of heart attacks at age 57 and 62. When he reached his mid-thirties, my husband and his brother started seeing a preventative cardiologist (ours is through the local university). They did very extensive testing and lab work to determine exact risk factors related to this pattern. Some of the numbers were concerning, even alarming. But then - through a series of diet, exercise (and meds for his brother), now one year later his numbers are all significantly better - even within normal limits. So he will continue to see the cardiologist annually to monitor progress, but we're hoping to stop the pattern of early-death-via-heart-attack in the genetics.

I thought I would mention it because when I first started mulling over all of this, I started to freak that I would be a young widow. But now I feel like we are "doing something about it" and I can put those anxious thoughts further back in my head.

-R- said...

My dad lives alone. When he was undergoing treatment for cancer, it occurred to me that if he died, I had no idea who to notify. I guess I could have sent a text message to all his phone contacts? That wouldn't be weird or anything.

Jenny said...

Kudos for turning your worries into action!

-R- said...

Also, what Liz Scott said. Your kids love you.

Finally, I should start a business where bloggers can pay me a small fee, and then I'll post on their blogs to notify everyone if they die. For an extra fee, I'll even write something nice about the dead blogger.

Swistle said...

Ha, yes, I have "post it on my blog" as one of my after-unexpected-death instructions to my survivors! I've seen those "Anyone heard from ____?" things go a bit panicky on Twitter before, so it seems merciful to let people know. And I'd REALLY REALLY REALLY want to know, if a blog-friend died.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of an unexpected death I have a story also. I come from a very small town where everyone knows everyone. A couple of months ago I wake up to numerous texts "have you heard about_____ ___?! Uhm, no? Found dead in his home. This guy was 45 (YOUNG) everyone was so shocked and sad. BUT, what they talked about even more, he wasn't found for maybe 5 days, and the smell. Unbelievable from what was said. OK this whole ordeal sent me into a flat out panic, how much worse could it get? I know where your coming from it's scary as hell thinking about it. So sorry about your FIL and my morbid description of this death (trust me I could have added LOTS more)!

hugs swistle.

TinaNZ said...

Excellent idea, and not just for death - what if one was in an accident and languishing in a coma, for example? Something similar would have made sorting out my father's finances a lot easier, now that he's mentally beyond remembering much more than how to put his trousers on.

If anything happened to you, Swistle, I'd want a black border on the internet. Now THAT's not morbid AT ALL, is it?

Doing My Best said...

The strike-through letter to your FIL is still one of my favorite posts, and I read it whenever I need a good laugh =)!
That seems so strange that both of your in-laws died so unexpectedly *cough*I'm a little envious; I know that, uh, some people have family members like this who are going to LIVE FOREVER*cough*. (Sorry if that's an inappropriate sentiment at a time like this!)

Jessica said...

I wish it wasn't so much work to create an in case of death folder. I KNOW it's extremely important, but for some reason I can't get myself to start or even just break it into small pieces. Sigh. Probably because the first piece I always come up with is 'make a will' which yes, we haven't done, which, yes, is extremely stupid since we have children, but...we haven't. Mainly because we don't know how to find a lawyer.

My dad did bring up a couple months ago finding a lawyer and having him do wills for all of us - my parents (who just need to update theirs), my sister/BIL, us, my other sister. That way we all have it done. Everyone thinks this is an excellent idea, but no one has done anything yet.

Swistle said...

Jessica- If it helps, the parts I mention in this post took less than one evening to do. I'd been thinking it would take night after night, but it went faster than I thought.

Our will is sooooo out of date, and it's on our "We should definitely take care of this; somehow we are not taking any action to do this" list. What we DID do was handwrite what we wanted. It took about 5 minutes and it's not a "hold up in court" sort of document, but it at least says what our wishes are (who should get our kids, who should get our money) so that family would know what we wanted.

Mrs. Irritation said...

Oh goodness. I'm sorry about your FIL. Even if you weren't all close, it is definitely worrisome that poor Paul has lost both parents suddenly at such relatively young ages. Gah. This leads me to thinking about what people would find in my drawers if I were to die suddenly. How much should I prepare for that sort of thing? Computer files too. Hmmm...

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

Wow, sorry for all the loss recently.

I love that you ignored your hypothetical future you; I have that same dream about future perfection. Which reminds me I haven't updated our own In Case of Death file recently…