Sunday, August 11, 2019

GOOD GRIEF, "Make Lists..."

Good Grief: Strategies for Building Resilience and Supporting Transformation

Make Lists of Things  that Need to be Done

Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.
Pablo Picasso
Such a simple thing to do, make lists, but a huge task at a time such as this.

However, making lists of things that need to be done gives you a purpose and keeps you focused. You may have difficulty with this at first, so rely on a friend or relative to help you until you get over the initial shock. Some people find that having something concrete to do keeps them busy, giving them some respite from the feelings of loss they are experiencing.

Some people plan their transition to death prior to the event, while others come meet it with no plans. My suggestion is to at least know the wishes of each other and the name of the funeral home you want to use, as well as their telephone number.

I had been to several funerals in the past, but not as many as some. I never paid attention to the details. I just came, paid my respects, gave comfort, and left, not realizing all the details that were involved.

Fred’s death awakened me to the multitude of things to be done and choices to be made. Since my husband wanted to be cremated and have no viewing or other formal celebration, our details were less complicated, less expensive, and quickly taken care of. For others, it is more complicated and expensive and lists are needed to keep track of all the details. One suggestion: discuss and plan your funeral wishes and details beforehand.

After the funeral details are completed, you move forward to the many other details that never seem to end. Financial accounts, insurance policies, joint ownership, death certificates, living expenses, debts, and many unforeseen issues arise that will need your attention. I dealt with all of this by making list…after list… after list…to keep it all together.

Keeping a notebook with divided sections really helped. Each note identifying accounts, dates, times, phone numbers, and conversations – then tracking follow-ups, next steps and completions. Tedious work indeed! I was even complimented by my financial planner, Jason, at how organized I was.

Well, if I didn’t do it, how would it get done? I thought. I had no magic wand or genie in a bottle to grant my wishes.

However, I did not feel so well organized. I suggest that you have a list of all your financial accounts, insurance policies, deeds, owner’s certificates, and other valuables to save you time and the stress of searching for them and not knowing what resources you have.

Funeral directors and their business managers can help greatly. Christian Oakes, the business manager at Joseph A. Ward Funeral Home in Linwood PA, had been familiar with some of my husband’s family members’ funerals, but we had never really met. However, he did remember the family name, which provided some connection and comfort. I could not have asked for a more wonderful young man to assist me in this manner.

He knew the questions I needed answers to before I asked them. The check-off list he had was so helpful and offered a variety of options for the management of funeral arrangements. He also made sure I had the right number of death certificates and who needed originals versus copies. He also said he would check with my husband’s previous employer, as he knew from experience that there had been insurance policies by the company for retirees. This was something I did not know. I put it on my check list to follow-up on, too. He also contacted me when there were any new developments. I am grateful for his care and compassion.

Today’s funeral homes have websites that provide lists of services offered. One site I recently visited had a list of recently deceased persons with photographs. Upon clicking the photograph, you are provided with a variety of data related to this person that may include an obituary, date, time and site of the viewing and funeral, a slide presentation of memorabilia and more. Additionally, there was information on topics related to the grieving process, written by a psychologist.

Later, check lists can become a habit and lead your path for each day. The check lists may well start by including daily “normal” tasks as well. Simple tasks that you might forget if you live alone: take out the trash, pay the bills, put the recycle bag out on the specific day, go to the grocery store and others. I did this because I was forgetful due to the stress. I needed the reminders. Also, I did this because it was quite natural for me as a “detail-oriented” person.

Almost a year later, I no longer wrote as many lists that concerned the loss event. I completed many tasks through this journey of grief and loss that emerged and needed attention. It took many months to start checking off some things. You never know when something new will arise, but within a year you have had the practice and are prepared.

Keep the notebook with the lists of what has happened, especially with financial transactions. They will come in handy when it is Tax Day and you need to recall whether you rolled over an IRA or retirement money or took the cash. It can be your proof and avoid another headache. One extremely important item that has caused me much grief was dealing with utility companies. Save yourself a huge headache by closing out utility bills listed in your husband’s name as soon as you can to avoid an exhausting merry-go-round ride.

        Think about developing your own list for dealing with bills and finances connected with the death of a spouse:
        what are my bills?
        what banks do I have accounts in?
        what stock accounts or IRAs or 401k accounts do I have (or did my spouse have)?
        who is the beneficiary on the accounts?
        what accounts need to have a name change?
        whose names are the car and house titles in?
        and what are the monthly payments if you do not own?
        are there any insurance policies on the deceased?
        who needs to be contacted?
        what should I do with funeral arrangements?
        how many death certificates do I need?
        was my spouse a veteran?
        does my spouse’s last employer have any outstanding policies related to him/her?
        what are my monthly bills?
        what are my real-estate taxes, school taxes, township taxes, car insurance, homeowners’ insurance, quarterly tax payments, life insurance payments, health insurance payments?
        are the payments electronic or paper?
        are payments automatically deducted from your account?
        what are my debts?
— just to name a few items that need your attention.
I know that this can seem overwhelming, so I have included two sample worksheets at the end of this section to give you a starting point. One is a sample To Do List and one is for Funeral Choices. These are not all-inclusive; you may have different information to add.
Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
— Benjamin Franklin
The To Do List contains names and telephone numbers of all the companies I pay bills to as well as what time of the month the bill comes. I can look at this anytime to find the contact information I need. I keep this document on my desktop computer for easy access. I could also print it out if needed. Yours may contain different information. It’s a great tool.

The Funeral Choices document contains some, not all, of the information relating to choices you need to consider when arranging for your loved one’s funeral. I created this after the fact as I stumbled through the grieving process. Please know that the funeral home will have a more comprehensive list, along with individual cost for services.

I also created a finances worksheet, which is not included, in order for me to understand what my finances for the year were going to be, with just one small retirement income and Social Security. I created a spreadsheet with a column of months down the left side and a list of expenses and income items across the top. Each column would add up for a yearly total. Each row would add across to the end of the expenses or the end of the income. There was a total for all expenses and incomes. This could also be done with a paper ledger. Either method will work.

Remember to enter the numbers monthly and to check the figures every six months and at the end of the year, then make any corrections needed — I did find a few errors and corrected them as I went along. These interventions worked great for me. However, it is up to you to determine what meets your individual needs. You may even be lucky enough to know and have the help of someone knowledgeable to assist you with this, whether they be a family member, a friend or professional.
        I have everything I need for an abundant life.
        I have clarity in knowing what tasks need to be accomplished.

        I feel confident that I can meet the challenges presented to me at this time.


With her permission, I am serializing here nurse Cheryl Barrett's valuable book on transcending grief. I had the pleasure of being her coach and editor through my Write Your Book with Me enterprise. 

Douglas Winslow Cooper, PhD

Perhaps the easiest way to obtain a copy of her book, published by Outskirts Press, is through this Amazon link: 

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