This was one of the hardest days of my life. My wife and I, along with Jason (my business partner) and his wife, had landed in Mexico for a 5 day vacation to watch a music festival headlined by Zac Brown Band. This had been an anticipated vacation for 3 months. We had bought the ocean-front suite that was also stagefront. We were 30 yards from the front of the stage and wouldn’t have to battle the crowds to watch the concerts every night. But, that 5 day dream vacation turned into a 24 hour nightmare for our family.
This wasn’t the type of vacation you see on the news where a cruise ship drove into a storm with terrified passengers on board and was faced with 20 foot waves. No, this was a tidal wave that headed straight for our family and didn’t take prisoners or give us time to get in a life raft.
That Friday afternoon, we pulled up to the resort. The first thing everyone on the bus was doing was to reconnect to civilization. Cell reception wasn’t great down there so we were waiting to connect to the resort Wi-Fi so we could check in on the kids and let our family know we had arrived. My brother had left Leigh (my wife) and I voicemails and sent numerous text messages that didn’t really say anything – just call immediately.
As I sat on the bus in front of the resort i experienced that bad feeling that comes over you when you know something bad has happened but can’t quite guess as to what. My mind immediately went to our children who we had left with Leigh’s parents. Had there been an accident and one of them was hurt? Did we need to fly back immediately? What if it was the worst thing I could imagine and one of them was seriously hurt?
The questions raced through our minds so i grabbed her cell phone and immediately called him.
The connection to my brother wasn’t the best – we were in Mexico after all – but the two words he said and then repeated still echo in my mind and make appearances in my dreams to this day.
That was it. No “hey” or ‘are you ok” but just two words that forever changed our world.
As the color ran from my face, I shook, froze and murmured the words that had just been said to me because everyone was asking, “What’s wrong”?
All I could say, as i put the phone down on my lap was, “Dad died.” The shock started to set in and tears accompanied it.
I was helped off the bus and into the lobby of the resort where I blindly walked to the line to check in. Unsure of what was really happening I stood there until Jason and Cory walked up and then I think I wandered off. I spun and walked in circles in the lobby and then was escorted to a private room where the hospitality crew was working where I collapsed in tears.
The next 12 hours were a blur and in-between tears, breakdowns, and phone calls, the reality began to sink in.
I don’t believe it’s easier if you have notice or not. Several of our friends have lost parents over the years and even with having time or “knowing it’s coming,” it doesn’t make things any easier. You’re still met with the grief and shock of losing a parent. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that I don’t believe anything can prepare you for.
Unfortunately, it’s something we all will experience. We’re all getting older and as our parents age it will bring new challenges to our lives even before they pass away.
I had no advanced notice of my dad’s passing. The evening before, we had dinner with them while watching the first round of the NCAA tournament. I hugged him goodnight and told him I’d talk to him in a few days when we were home.
They drove home and that was it. The next day, he was gone. My children lost their grandfather, my mom lost her husband of almost 42 years, and my brother and I lost our father all in an instant.
I’m fortunate to have had a pleasant evening and exchange with dad but even so, there are things i wish i had asked him or said to him over the years. One thing in particular was to get him a journal and ask him to write down everything he could remember or knew about our family history and lineage. I never did that and don’t know if we’ll have much record of that for my children and grandchildren.
Lesson # 1 – DON’T WAIT.
If there’s something you want to say, ask, or know about your family and you’re fortunate to still have parents or grandparents, then ask. Pick up the phone, send an email or text, or get in the car and go visit them.
This world is a busy place and somehow we find things to occupy our time even when we just want to relax. It’s hard to just spend time with loved ones but there are several times over the years where I can reflect back to sitting on our back deck and just hanging out with my dad. It was worth letting the email go unchecked or the robo-caller being sent to voicemail.
Losing a loved one is hard enough. You’re met with grief, sadness, shock and new stress that you’ve never felt. Immediately following a loss, you have to plan a funeral, make phone calls, take care of family or children, and handle financial affairs which leaves limited or no time to grieve.
The next day (Saturday) we flew home from Mexico. I’m sure the people sitting around us thought I was crazy. Every half-hour or so, i would just start crying hysterically. I tried to control it but again, the rollercoaster took over and I’d just have to get past that stretch.
Have you ever been out of the country for less than 24 hours? We flew out at 9 AM on Friday and landed back in North Carolina at 1 PM the next day. Customs gives you very confused looks when you’ve done a trip like that and Mexico probably isn’t the best place to tell them you’ve been visiting.
We got home around 5 PM that afternoon and I was met with hugs and tears from my mom, brother, and sister in-law. But as I said above, there was no time to grieve. Now we had to start making calls to family, friends, and former colleagues to notify them of dad’s passing.
Three hours later we had each made 20 or 30 calls. Dad was a pastor for 40 years in a few different churches. Fortunately, we had a great support network both locally and throughout the state who wanted to pray with us, support us however they could, and be there.
That night, we went straight into figuring out financial affairs. Much of this was organized but we still had to plan on paying bills, pay funeral expenses, and make sure mom had everything she needed.
The purpose of the next several posts that will accompany this one is not only to dive into my personal story, but also to share the emotions, stresses, and processes our family used to move forward with dad, handle his estate, and help mom transition into a different life.
The financial aspects of dealing with the loss of a loved one are different for many families and without proper guidance and help, you may find yourself in a variety of scenarios both for the better or worse.
Jason said something to me while we sat in the suite that Friday. He said, “write it all down.” I’m not sure i got every detail that we dealt with but over the 7 days leading up to dad’s funeral, I made notes about what we had done that day, surprises that we had encountered, and how we handled things.
If you have a story about a loved one or the loss of a loved one, i invite you to share it with us. You can post it on our Facebook page or send me a private message if that’s how you found this blog or you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. If there are specific areas or questions you’d like me to address you can post those as well and I will try to respond to them.
If you want to get a jump start on planning your own estate or helping your parents make sure their affairs are in order, you can visit our blog at www.twowaterswealth.com/blog and review other posts as well as our guide, Giving Your Family Peace of Mind.
The purpose of this post was to provide a backstory for you to understand the context in the next two posts. Even being in financial services for more than a decade, a Certified Financial Planner, and being very hands on with my mom during this period, we still didn’t get this 100% right. There were still financial surprises that had to be handled and dealt with even though my parents estate plan was well done and documented.
I’ll elaborate more on those in next weeks post and appreciate you taking a few minutes to read.
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