Update: I wrote this one year ago, but was too embarrassed to post it. Here it is back from the cutting room floor!
“I hope I die first.” That’s what I tell my wife as a joke. But I’m not really joking.
I would make a terrible Connor MacLeod, Legolas, or Louis de Pointe du Lac. Outliving my loved ones would be an emotional hell for me. I know this because of how hard it was for me when my dog Lulu died.
Lulu was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer around Christmas. The vet gave Lulu three weeks to live without treatment or four months to live with surgery. We chopped her cancer leg right off and the countdown began.
Those last four months were filled with cuddles, hikes, swims, snow-romping, steaks, and just about anything else I could think of to spoil a dog. Eventually the countdown clock hit zero. And after Lulu died I was a mess, to say the least.
I think I cried for three days straight. I even woke up crying. I cried almost every day at some point for the next six months. Any mention of her for the next couple years would send me to tears. I even cried by the third paragraph of this post. I should have probably apologized to the neighbors. I think our walls were pretty thick through so hopefully they didn’t hear too much.
I think my wife quickly learned to change the topic if anybody tried to bring Lulu up in conversation. It’s been three and a half years and I’ve just recently had a discussion about Lulu without secretly crying inside or out.
So why does this matter?
If losing my dog turns me into a tear-soaked, emotional mess…I can’t even imagine the devastation of losing my spouse.
I think I’d probably want to hide in a hole for at least a year. Family and friends would probably have to have an intervention. The kind where somebody comes over to the house and pulls up the blinds and throws away all the pizza boxes.
Whoever dies first doesn’t have to deal with the grief and aftermath. Statistically I’m at an advantage to die first. Shorter life expectancy. Propensity to do stupid things outdoors (see my surf drowning story).
I’m terribly frightened of the emotional grief. I’m terribly frightened that during the grief, whoever survives will have a mess of legal, financial, and other tedious tasks to deal with. If I’m going to be sad, I want to be proper sad and not have other stupid shit to deal with. Obviously, as an estate planning attorney, we’ve got all the right legal documents in place, but that’s only part of the process to make a plan to let your surviving spouse be sad without a huge mess to clean up.