Last Friday, I drove from Corvallis to Portland to help my cousin, Duane. Duane has been living with throat cancer for several years now, but in recent months things have grown worse. It feels like he’s preparing for the end. And that means he’s packing up his apartment (where he’s lived for 21 years!) to move someplace smaller.
We spent all of Friday afternoon sorting through his office. This was a challenge because (like most Roths) Duane is messy (and a self-proclaimed hoarder). Duane and I packed boxes and boxes of collectible card games, ancient coins, books on Greek and Roman history, and outdated computer games.
While we packed, we talked. Duane is my cousin, yes, but he’s also my best friend. Because we’re family and friends, I feel like we share a deep connection. We can call out each other’s bullshit without hurting feelings. We can sing each other’s praises without becoming obsequious. Most of all, we can talk about nerdy stuff like Magic: The Gathering, The Great British Baking Show, the ignorance of history in supposedly “historical” television dramas, and so on.
At one point, I found a piece of paper buried on a bookshelf. “Can I have this?” I asked. “I want to publish it on Get Rich Slowly.”
“What is it?” Duane asked.
“It’s your net worth from 1993,” I said.
Duane laughed. “Go ahead,” he said, and I gleefully tucked the page in my pocket. I love it.
I love that his net worth lists assets like “Aquariums $100” and “Albums $100” (referring to his progrock record albums) and “Stamps $16,000”. Duane used to collect semi-official Canadian airmail stamps. Then he moved on to collecting ancient Green and Roman coins.
I also think it’s hilarious that Duane listed his $9 Texaco charge card as a liability. Nowadays, I wouldn’t bother with a a debt so small. Thirty years ago, though, Duane did.
Although our work was non-strenuous for me, it took its toll on Duane. He recently finished another round of chemotherapy and is in a lot of pain. It’s a struggle for him to walk up stairs, to lift even the lightest objects. At one point, he pulled off his shirt to show me how emaciated he’s become. (He can’t eat solid food, so it’s difficult for him to consume enough calories. Drinking calories gives him nausea.)
“I’m so skinny!” he said.
“How does that make you feel?” I asked.
“Old,” he said. “I look like I’m 87, not 57.”
We began packing another box of ancient coins. “Hey,” Duane said. “If you get bored, I could use your help making a will.”
“You still haven’t done that?” I asked. Duane has been talking about making a will for months now. Maybe years.
“No,” he laughed. “I’ve been feeling better.” I knew exactly what he meant.
When Duane feels lousy, he’s motivated to plan for his impending demise. He thinks about writing a will. He thinks about finding a replacement for himself at the box factory. The problem is that once he begins to feel better again, he decides not to do anything. As a result, the family business still has no plan for accounting and bookkeeping once he’s gone. And, obviously, he still hasn’t written a will.
I shook my head. “Dude, you know that you should to write a will when you’re of sound mind and body. That’s exactly when you’re supposed to do it. You’re not supposed to wait until the very end.”
He laughed. “I know,” he said. “But I don’t like thinking about it.” Nobody does. Nobody does.
We didn’t get to the will last Friday, though. We got distracted talking about computer games. I left without helping him draft one. (I also left without a sketchpad and a houseplant he wanted to give me.)
“I really appreciate your help,” Duane said as I was prepping to leave. “It would have taken me weeks to do what you accomplished in a few hours. Thank you.”
“No problem,” I said. “And please, let me know if there’s anything else at all I can do. I know it might seem like you’re hassling me, but you’re not. I want to do this more than anything.” Earlier in the day, we’d talked about how much we appreciate each other and about our regrets. One of my deepest regrets is that I blew off my friend Sparky in the weeks leading up to his suicide in 2009. I didn’t know his death was imminent. This time, Duane’s demise seems clear, and I want to make the most of whatever time we have left.
Today, Duane sent me an e-mail. His follow-up appointment yesterday didn’t go well. His treatments aren’t working, and the doctor has nothing else to try. All that’s left is to mitigate the growth of the tumor. So, it’s very likely that I’ll be making lots more unplanned trips to Portland in the near future: to help Duane, to help the box factory, etc.
First, though, I want to help Duane draft a will. He doesn’t know where to start. Honestly, neither do I.
Okay, that’s not exactly true.
I’ve written about estate planning several times in the past, although not in many years. And behind me here in my office, I have shelves of personal-finance books, including books on estate planning. Books like The Executor’s Guide to Settling a Loved One’s Estate or Trust and The AARP Crash Course in Estate Planning. (Most of my books are showing their age, however)
Meanwhile, I again need to put my 2022 plan for GRS on hold. I spent Monday and Tuesday this week diving into the long-awaited “de-design”. (I want to revert this site to a much more minimalist (almost “primitive”) look and feel. More on that later when I’m ready to reveal the new look.) I made some good progress, too. I’d hoped that by the end of this week, I’d have a design finished and ready to convert to a blog theme. Now I need to put this plan aside for more important things.
Fortunately, I find I’m not frustrated by any of this. I feel like I have the right attitude here, that I’m placing priorities where they ought to be placed. I’ll finish the GRS de-design at some point. For now, though, I’ll focus on family (and on the family business).
Before I wrap things up today, I have one request.
If you have any experience and/or recommendations regarding writing your own will, please drop me a line whether by email or in the comments below. I won’t get to this today — I need to tie up loose ends here at home so that I’m able to turn my attention outward — but I’ll probably start my research tomorrow. I’d love suggestions for books, software, and/or online resources for estate planning.
In return, I’ll do my best to collect these into a useful blog post here in the near future. Thanks!