The funny thing about death, and yes, there are a few funny things about death, is that despite the fact that we all know we will face it, we rarely like to discuss its impending arrival, much less prepare for it. There is some odd belief that if we talk about death, we will somehow hasten its coming. Our thinking is absolutely, unequivocally ass-backwards. By not preparing for death, either our own or those who mean the most to us, we rob ourselves of the one thing that will mean the most when that person passes. That is, the opportunity to truly mourn a person and celebrate his or her life. I know, because I had that experience with the passing of my stepfather and it completely altered my view on how to prepare for death.
My stepfather, who passed away in 1999, was a bond trader. If you know anything about bond traders or just traders in general, they tend to be superstitious. Not along the lines of not walking under ladders or avoiding black cats, but more along the lines of following a routine and repeating the same actions that helped lead to a great trade or deal (think how athletes repeat things based on what they did before their last win). It seems wired into their brain: think good thoughts and good things happen; think bad thoughts and you ruin your streak. In the case of my stepfather, this somehow applied to thinking about death. He never planned for it. For someone as smart and successful as he was, he did not plan for death nor did he write a Will. I honestly think he thought that by planning for death, it would immediately lead to death.
I need share only a few details more for you to guess how not having a Will played out; my mom was his third wife, he had investments in an in-law’s family business and many people relied on him for his generosity. It was astonishing to see how short the celebration of his life was. Two lawsuits, half a million in lawyers’ fees and five years later, my mom was finally able to close that chapter. Instead of celebrating the man he had been post-death, that moment deteriorated into petty greed. All because of poor planning and a fear of talking about death.
I determined that in my mother’s case, my sister Ashley and I needed to be smart and prepared. Not just to avoid the mayhem of my stepdad’s death, but because my mother has Parkinson’s. She has already been robbed of how she envisioned her later years. When she passes, we want and need the time and mental space to celebrate her life. When I heard about Carol Roth’s Future File system, I was intrigued. I had started to pursue and layout the questions we needed to answer, but admittedly, it had been a fragmented and choppy pursuit. Completing the Future File seemed a simple and easy way to not only make sure that we were well prepared, but it was an opportunity to include my mother in the planning. Doing the System’s exercises with her gave us much more than we had expected.
When we introduced Future File to her, admittedly I was not sure how she would receive it; were we being overbearing or thoughtful? Would she think we were wishing her dead or just wanting to help her think through everything? To my surprise, she was pleased we had taken the initiative and was equally happy to announce that she’d organized a lot of the information already. It made her feel a part of the process, which is very important to her these days. Given her Parkinson’s, she feels like so much is out of her control and being decided for her. Doing the system allowed her to show us that she’d already prepared some things while we could equally plan with her on things she had not.
The greatest, unexpected benefit of all? This effort implicitly demonstrated to our mom that we were thinking about her. We have busy lives, but this reinforced that we do care about her well-being and that we want her involved in the process. And most importantly, she knows she will get an amazing celebration of her life — because that’s all we need to focus on when the time comes. The Future File system ended up being an amazing gift to the three of us.
Written by Jennifer J. Fondrevay
Jennifer J. Fondrevay is on a mission to rediscover the humanity in business. The author of NOW WHAT? A survivor’s guide for thriving through acquisition, Jennifer is an international C-suite marketing executive who experienced several multi-billion dollar acquisitions during her career. She consults with disrupted organizations experiencing corporate transition to ensure the human-side of business remains a central focus for success rather than an inhibitor. Check out her work and sign-up for Jennifer’s people-focused newsletters at: jenniferjfondrevay.com