So I’m going to try and keep these two posts short – partly because my brain hurts if I type for too long – seriously it’s a thing! – and partly because whilst it’s the truth, it’s not the nice stuff people necessarily like to read. But I did promise to be honest, so I do want to include them.
Writing / rushing your will
When I first found out I had Breast Cancer two years ago, I scribbled down a few thoughts in a note on my phone, but never really thought I’d need it – I was going to beat cancer – there was no other option.
But when you’re told you’re having brain surgery, and the outcome could literally be death, full recovery, brain damage, or anything in between, it puts you into a whole different mindset.
The reality of then asking a complete stranger in a foreign hospital to print out your ‘will’, scrawling something on a piece of flimsy white A4 which bears no resemblance to your signature, asking them to witness it, then handing it over to your parents, hoping they’ll never have to read it… that’s perhaps one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever had to do.
Lesson one – I’m now going to sort this properly, so I never have to do it again. That might sound defeatist, but it’s not about that; it’s about saving yourself the mental stress and emotional strain of doing it in a rush, when you’re scared and have other things you should be focusing on.
A new business plan…?
Having already seen my parents have to deal with the loss of their first child at 23, and the funeral planning which follows… the idea of them potentially having to do that again with their second child was similarly heartbreaking.
So I wanted to make sure they had some idea of what I wanted, to try and take away some of that pain for them. Sounds nuts, right? Planning your funeral? But plenty of people have to do it, or chose to do it, especially if they’re in a position where they know it’s actually going to happen. Mum lost her sister to cancer a few years ago – if you ever wondered where my planning tendencies come from, Glynn was a legend – she planned, booked and paid for everything in advance, left full instructions (run of show, letters to guests, you name it) and when the time came, it just took away some of the burden on those left behind, whilst also reminding people what Glynn was like 🙂
For me, I was lucky not to have the certainty, but I did want to leave some idea of what I wanted, just in case. A bit like the will; it’s something you don’t expect to have to think about, but under the circumstances, you just can’t avoid it.
When I first thought about this, I actually joked about it with my boss – people start businesses as Wedding Planners, to help you plan your ‘big day’. But your funeral is probably the only other ‘big day’ where you’ll be the centre of attention and it’s all about you, right? Yet they’re typically more low-key affairs, planned by grieving friends and relatives, supported by compassionate but often sombre Funeral Directors. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But for people like me who desperately try to focus on things in a positive, upbeat way; perhaps it’s a business opportunity waiting to be explored? Helping people plan the most epic funeral ever, and trying to make the process fun or even enjoyable, rather than sombre or sad? Could be a goer…?
Joking aside; I got to the stage where every song that come up on my iPod made me ask myself “would I want this as my final number?” and ended up crying at every song that came on… OK Boxy, just stop.
Eventually I captured a few things I wanted, and dropped them into another note on my phone, but then came back to the same heartache… who do I give it to? Mum & Dad? A close friend? I opted for the latter – it just felt right. She still has this, I’ve no idea if she’s read it, but again, I hope she’ll never have to.
How far do you go…?
I’ve always assumed / hoped that when someone dies, that governments, authorities, service providers etc have systems or processes which just kick into action to help sort out the administrative stuff… like freezing bank accounts, paying final bills etc. But when you live abroad, and your affairs are split across borders…and your Executors don’t speak the language or know how the systems work, it complicates things a little bit more.
Things like asking your UK and NL Accountants to file your annual tax returns early, and invoice you by return, so you can pay their bill and avoid any automated reminders, late payment fees, interest charges, cock-ups, delays and complications… I’m a planner and have kept a daily cashflow forecast of all my financials for the past ten years or more, so this bit actually wasn’t too laborious for me, and it did give me something to do to take my mind off things for a while. But when the question came up of whether to hand over Power of Attorney, it was a step beyond where I was mentally or emotionally prepared to go.
By Monday night, I’d done about as much as I could; I did it to keep my mind occupied, avoid worrying about what was about to happen, and try to negate any additional hassle for my parents. But I just couldn’t face doing any more. So I settled down in my hospital room, turned on a random Dutch TV channel, and watched a programme called Mindfuck – oh the irony!
I’m alive – wahey!
So when the surgeon asked me how I felt when I came round after the op, my response of “I’m alive – wahey!” perhaps now makes more sense 🙂