If you have children, you need a will (and life insurance)

gravestoneMost people don’t like to think about death or dying – especially when it is their own life they are considering. And this fear of thinking about it causes many to ignore the subject all together, falsely believing that it won’t happen to them. Or perhaps they have decided that they don’t care what happens after they die. I mean they are already gone, right?

When my friend, Trish, was first diagnosed with cancer, she professed to not caring about the bills or the money she spent on her family. Her theory was that you can’t take it with you. And while that is true…you are leaving behind love ones who will have to pick up the pieces. They will still have bills to pay.

Trish lost her battle with cancer at the end of August. She was the main bread winner of the family. She did not have a will or life insurance. Now her husband is struggling with paying off her medical expenses and adjusting to life without her income. A life insurance policy would have provided the family some relief.

In Trish’s case, the lack of a will was not as important even though it might have made a few things easier on her husband. But now he is the sole provider for their two kids. It is even more important that he have a will to provide for his children if he should pass away before they reach adulthood.

My husband is an attorney and while he doesn’t specialize in wills and trusts, he make a point to emphasize to parents that they need a will. It is the ONLY way to have a voice in what happens to your children after you die.

You may think it is obvious that your brother will take care of your kids or that your mom is young enough to do so. It may never enter into your mind that your mom and brother may argue over who is best to care for your children. Without a will, it will be up to the state to decide who will have custody of your children.

But with a will, YOU get to say who you would like to raise your kids. You can ensure that the family member or friend you want to raise your child is the one that gets to do so. You don’t want to leave it up to the courts to decide what is best for your family.

(There are other benefits of having a will such as giving instructions regarding medical decisions in case you are not medically able to express your wishes, providing for the education of children or grandchildren and avoiding tax consequence for your heirs.)

As for life insurance that money can help pay off your expenses and for your funeral instead of leaving your loved ones with bills. In the case of Trish, a life insurance policy would have done that as well as provide the family more time to transition their lives to a single, one income family.

So I urge all of you to review your life insurance policies and update your wills. And if you don’t have a will – and especially if you have kids – I urge you to get one.

Losing a friend to cancer…and raising money for her family

I’m incredibly sad. My beautiful friend lost her fight with cancer. She was beautiful on the outside with gorgeous red curly hair. Trish was always smiling, so full of joy. And she was beautiful on the inside with her positive attitude and energy that was so contagious.

Never before have I seen someone so sure that she would beat the diagnosis of breast cancer. (See my post Explaining cancer and chemo to the kids.) Not once did she seem down about it. And it wasn’t just an outward show for others. Even her husband marveled at her “I can beat this” attitude. And she did. Nine months after her breast cancer diagnosis, she was cancer free.

That lasted just three months. Then the headaches – intense, hurt-so-bad-I can’t move type headaches – came. They admitted her to the hospital while they looked for the cause. It turned out to be cancer cells in her spinal fluid. (See my post about her cancer returning.)

I looked that up on the Internet after the diagnosis and found nothing good. It always indicated a tumor somewhere else, typically in the brain. But the doctors couldn’t find the source of the cells and started her on chemo.

She made it through this again, but her spirit began to wane slightly from this second round of chemo. trishBut she still made an effort to be involved in her children’s lives. She threw her annual Easter party for the kids. She came to their school performance. She took them to theme parks and festivals. She cherished every minute with them.

For Trish, her family meant everything. She worked hard to provide her kids with so many opportunities. She also worked to allow her husband to be a stay-at-home dad which in turn allowed him to volunteer at the kids’ school and be deeply involved in his children’s lives.

And now I fear all of that is going to change. I am not only sad to lose a friend, but I am sad that this is going to change the lives of her children and husband. She was the bread-winner for the family, and now her husband will be looking for full-time work.

Her children – eight-year-old boy/girl twins – are friends with my kids. They walk to and from school with us and often her kids are over here or mine are over there. Jase had Emma in his kindergarten class, and they now have third grade together. Noah is Jase’s best friend. I am heartbroken for them. No child should ever have to lose a parent.

When I picture Trish in my mind, I don’t remember the woman who was sick. Even though she was brave in the face of something that I don’t wish on anyone, what I remember most about her was her smile and upbeat attitude. So when I think of Trish, I picture her wearing her black dental hygienist scrubs, her long red curly hair pulled back in a high pony tail, her glasses perched on her nose. She is smiling and bouncing around as we walk the kids to school. And that is how I want to remember her.

Now in all my posts about my friend and her cancer, I have referred to her as Patty. This is the name she grew up with, but I have always known her as Trish. I used the other name originally to protect her privacy. But now I am going to do something I typically wouldn’t do.

Trish loved her family. But as I said, she was the main income provider for the family. Her husband worked part time a few evenings and weekends when she was home to take care of the kids. But now the family is without Trish, and things are about to change. Her husband will have to get a job that pays more than his part-time employment. They have medical and funeral expenses hanging over them while they transition their lives.

A friend of mine and I have set up a fund to help out Trish’s family. (On the donation page, I am part of the “Henry family” – in case you are wondering.) And this is where it gets to something I typically wouldn’t do – I am asking anyone who can help to donate money to her family. Every little bit will help. I know they would appreciate it and so would I. She truly was a wonderful person. She will be missed but not forgotten.

 

Killing off your characters

No matter what type of novel you are writing – thriller, mystery, romance – there may come a time when you need to kill off one or more of your characters.

This is challenging for some writers who grow attached to their characters. It can be equally hard for the readers when a favorite character dies.

I guess before I delve into this topic, I should divide these characters into two categories – minor characters and main characters.

It is quite easy to kill off minor character. Many times you and the reader are not as attached to them. I always think of a minor character as the first person killed in a horror movie. They are not usually well developed. No one has had a chance to really get to know and like this character before they die.

Criminal Justice uid 179165I write fantasy and in my stories are battles. It would be odd if no one ever died or was at least wounded. In the first book of my trilogy, Summoned, no one died until the battle at the end of the book.  As the trilogy progressed I got much better at willingly killing off some characters but they were all minor characters. Now some of them were not bit players but they were not major players. And none of them were written into the book just to die.

Adding a character just to knock him off always reminds me of a scene from the movie Galaxy Quest. One of the characters, Guy, is sure he is going to die five minutes into their mission as he isn’t important enough to have a last name.

Now killing off a minor character might be easy but it is something entirely different to kill a main character. In my trilogy, no major character on the protagonist’s side died. But in my current WIP there are quite a few battles. It would be unrealistic that only extras or minor characters would die. So I decided a main character needed to die.

Now you shouldn’t kill someone just because you or someone else thinks you should. You should only kill off a character if it will advance the story. This could mean that this person’s death contributes to the development of another character.  Take for example if a husband dies. His wife may have to step up in both his business and at home. Her character can go in a whole other direction than if her husband were still alive.

But don’t kill off a main character on a whim. You need to think of the consequence losing a main character will do to your story and the remaining characters.

If you are willing to kill off main characters, you can have your readers expecting the unexpected. They will know that everyone is at risk and that can add tension to your story.

So don’t be afraid to kill of a character but make sure you are doing it for the right reason – to advance your story.

My friend’s cancer returns

In January of 2013, I wrote a blog about my friend Patty being diagnosed with breast cancer and having to talk to my kids about cancer and chemo. I am glad to say that everything went well. Patty had an awesome “I can beat this” attitude. She took everything in stride – even having a head-shaving party before her hair fell out due to the chemo.

My kids also took everything in stride – the hair loss, the occasional extra visits by their friends, and that they saw Patty less. (Of course seeing her less is easy when you typically only see her briefly 2-3 times a week.) Patty finished her chemo, had a mastectomy on one side and then did radiation. Everything went well and in September, she was declared cancer free. Her family celebrated by going to Disney World in October.

cancer2Then after Christmas, Patty began having really bad headaches. A trip to doctor didn’t help and was followed up by a trip to the ER and a visit to the neurologist. Both her CT scan and MRI showed nothing. Finally, on a second trip to the ER, they did a spinal tap to check for meningitis. While that is what they first said it was, Patty (by then admitted to the hospital) wasn’t feeling any better. They tested her spinal fluid and found cancer cells.

I looked up cancer cells in the spinal fluid on the Internet. I found only a few references to it, and none of the information was good. Patty and her husband (who hopefully didn’t research this on the Internet) are worried. Gone now is that “we can beat it” attitude. The day after the discovery of the cancer cells, Patty had a port put in her head and began chemo.

Right now, they are planning on doing chemo treatments for the next 4-6 months. The good news is that the cancer cells are all they found. There are no tumors. Whether this is significantly better or not, I don’t know.

I am worried about so many things. I am worried that Patty may not recover this time from cancer. It would be devastating for her kids. I can’t even imagine what would happen to the family with the loss of Patty and all the changes that would have to happen. I worry about them and of course, my own kids. This would be the first death my kids have had to experience and while they don’t see Patty often, they do see her husband, Bruce, and the twins all the time. I also worry about how Patty’s family is going to survive with Patty not working this month. She is the main bread winner of the family. Bruce stays home with the kids and has a part-time (under 25 hours a week) job doing inventory for one of the big-box stores. They can’t last long without her income. (Bruce has been missing a lot of work too.)

I guess only time will reveal what will happen next. If anyone knows anything about cancer cells in the spinal fluid – good or bad news – I would like to hear it. I would like to understand what is happening and what the chance of Patty pulling through this are. Until then, I will just pray for them and try to help out any way they will allow me to help. And I will be thankful that I am only having the cancer talk (again) with the kids so far.

Explaining cancer and chemo to the kids

cancerTwo weeks ago, my friend revealed that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I immediately offered to help her out any way she needed. For the purposes of this blog, I will call her Pat since I am not sure she wants me to announce to everyone on the Internet that she has cancer. I know, I know, it isn’t very likely that you could recognize her from this, but it just feels better to give her an alias.

Originally, Pat was supposed to start chemotherapy right away, but it has turned into a hurry up and wait type situation. Now this is a friend whom my kids see several times a week as we walk with her kids (boy/girl twins who are the same age as Jase) to and from school. (We don’t see her daily as she is the bread-winner of the family and on most days, it is her husband walking with us and the kids though Pat joins us two mornings and one afternoon each week.)

Anyway, since the kids do see her several times a week, I felt it necessary to discuss with my kids some of the upcoming changes. I thought the discussion might be as hard as the death one that I had with Lexie back in November, but it proved to be easier than I thought.

I spoke to each kid separately. I didn’t really explain to either of them what cancer is but concentrated on the fact that the doctors would be treating Pat in order to make her better but that the treatment would be rough. We talked about her not feeling well and that the twins might be coming over to our house more often. (We had already had them over while she met with the oncologist.) And we talked about her losing her hair which according to her oncologist should happen within a week of her starting treatment.

The kids seemed fine with what I told them, and I encouraged them to ask me any questions they had – now or as time went on. Of course, I am really unsure what will happen. I have never known anyone who had Chemo. My dad has been diagnosed with cancer twice. He first had prostate cancer where he received radiation for about a year. His appearance never changed, and we don’t see him all that often for them to notice any of the other side effects like being tired.

This summer my dad was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The kids knew he had surgery since I went and sat with my mom at the hospital. But being kids, they really didn’t understand. All they knew is that their other grandparents came to play with them while I was away. In this instance, the only thing we told them was my dad’s voice would be scratchy and rough sounding from the surgery for a few months. Though they did comment on that when they say him, they never did ask any other questions.

So I guess we will see how things go with Pat. I am sure the questions will come, and we will answer them with straight-forward responses. And I am sure Lexie, who is still obsessed with death, will bring up that subject again too.

Death: One of the many hard discussions I will have with my kids

I don’t know what prompted it, but my four-year-old has been worrying about death lately. It isn’t that anyone we know has died. In fact, my kids have never had to deal with the death of a loved one or even a pet. And for that I am thankful, but I realize that won’t always hold true.

A week ago, Lexie came in from riding her scooter with her brother saying she didn’t want to become a grandma because then she would die. My husband and I quickly pointed out that both of her grandmas were still alive and that becoming a grandma didn’t mean you were going to die.

“Then what will happen when I become a grandma?” she asked.

“You will enjoy playing with your grandkids,” my husband answered.

That answer seemed to be fine with her, but the subject didn’t go away. A few mornings later, Lexie was almost in tears talking about growing old and not wanting to die. We were on the way to preschool, and I didn’t want to discuss this in the car with her, so I said we would discuss it later.

After I dropped her off, I drove home torn with what I would tell her. I want to be truthful about death, but I also don’t want to scare her or cause her to worry about it. I can’t tell her that she or someone she loves will not die. She might never believe anything else I ever say if I told her those things wouldn’t happen and then they do.  I kind of hoped she would forget about the topic but no such luck.

On the way home, she brought up the topic again. I asked her why she was thinking about death, and she said it was from a dream. She went on to say that you die when you get a tummy ache or when you get sick.  I calmly pointed out that Daddy had been sick earlier this month, and he didn’t die. She then asked if sometimes you die after being sick, and I did agree that sometimes that happens but that many times you get sick and then get better.

Having the discussion in the car wasn’t the ideal place to talk about dying, but I think I addressed her questions and reassured her the best that I can. But I am sure this won’t be our last conversation about it. I just hope that I continue to find the right words to alleviate her concerns.