Planning for Life's Curveballs
Four Key Lessons Learned From My Bout with COVID-19
We all learned quite quickly in March 2020 that curveballs aren't just found on the baseball field. They are pitched into our homes, businesses, and relationships with total disregard for the game plan we create for ourselves. Yes, curveballs can change the course of our lives and, by definition, are unexpected, surprising, or disruptive.
I think we could all agree that COVID has been all three—at once!
So, as I reflect on mine and my mother's experience with COVID, I want to share four important lessons learned from our journey. Lessons that will help you as you plan for the curveballs of life that are sure to come your way.
Lesson #1: There Are No Guarantees in Life
My mother and I followed all guidelines. We canceled vacations. We stayed home. We wore masks. We washed our hands. We carried hand sanitizer with us everywhere we went and used it before, during, and after any public experience. We stayed six feet apart. We stopped shaking hands and exchanging hugs. We wiped down every surface routinely. And we got COVID. We are proof that you can do everything right and still get sick. Life is unpredictable. COVID has driven that point home for all of us.
Think back to February 2020. Kids were in school. Employees were commuting to work every day. The only vaccine people talked about was the flu shot. All of us were blissfully ignorant of how dramatically life would change in a few short weeks. We had no idea what was lurking just around the corner.
Control is an illusion. You can eat your veggies, take your vitamins, get eight hours of sleep every night, and exercise routinely. But, all it takes is one person to run a stop sign or to drink and drive and your world is forever changed. There are no guarantees in life. Just when you think you have it all figured out, life throws you a curveball.
Lesson #2: Don’t Delay; Plan Now
My mother and I were tested for COVID on a Wednesday. At the time of testing—before we even knew she was positive—my mother was told to go straight to the ER because her oxygen saturation level was unsatisfactory. Unfortunately, my mother sat in the ER waiting room for over six hours that day and never got seen. Exhausted from the ordeal, she left the ER and came home. By early Friday morning, we had to call 911, and she was immediately hospitalized. By Sunday, I was also taken by ambulance to the ER.
For both of us, our health declined rapidly. Thankfully, we each already had advanced health care directives because there was no time to plan at that point. The time between COVID testing to hospitalization was less than 48 hours for my mother. There is not a whole lot of good planning that can be done in that short timeframe.
Life will always be busy. To borrow from the Bible, COVID is no respecter of persons. COVID doesn’t care about your relationship status. COVID doesn’t care about the age of your kids. COVID doesn’t care about the size of your investment portfolio. You could say the same thing about cancer or dementia or any number of diseases or illnesses.
If you put off planning until there is a medical emergency, it is too late. The natural heightened emotions of an emergency combined with the frantic rush to get something—anything—in place means judgment and thinking is clouded, and that is a recipe for mistakes. Plan now. Tomorrow can be too late.
Lesson #3: Conversation is Key
That Friday morning the paramedics came for my mother is still a bit of a blur. But I remember watching three strangers come into the house, decked out head-to-toe in PPE, looking like they stepped out of some bizarre space movie. One peppered me with questions while the other two checked my mom’s vitals and evaluated her overall state. Almost as soon as they swept into the house, they swept back out again, with my mom on a gurney (she wasn’t strong enough to walk), and I was left alone in the unsettling aftermath. The emotion of that moment, not being able to go with her and not knowing when I might next see her, was overwhelming. Experiencing that moment barely a year after my father’s death was crushing. Trying to manage those emotions while also being sick myself was virtually impossible.
Now, imagine that—on top of navigating all these emotions—I am being asked to make life or death decisions about my mother’s health care. Thankfully, it never got to that point for us, but many people have a different story, which is why it is so important to have conversations with your Health Care Agent (the person you task with making health care related decisions for you in the event you cannot make them for yourself) about what you would or would not want done for you in a life-threatening situation.
When my mother was being loaded into the back of the ambulance, part of me would have agreed to anything and everything someone would have offered me as a lifeline for her. But, that’s not actually the job of the Health Care Agent. The job of the Health Care Agent is to be the voice of the patient, to make decisions based solely on what the patient would want. The Health Care Agent is not to insert his or her own personal wishes or beliefs into the decision-making. How can your Health Care Agent make decisions based on what you want if you have never expressed to them what you want?
The greatest gift you can give your Health Care Agent is conversation. Talk with them while you are happy and healthy and life is good. These conversations will be the foundation your Health Care Agent relies upon when emotions are high and decisions are difficult. End the conversation with these words: “I love you. I trust you. Whatever choice you make for me, it is okay.”
Lesson #4: Always Have a Plan B
One of the hardest parts of our journey with COVID was the fact that my mother and I were sick at the same time. Even though I am my mother’s Health Care Agent and she is mine, for the three weeks we battled COVID, neither one of us was in a position to be making important decisions for the other. Having back-ups named in our legal documents, people who could take over the Health Care Agent role for each of us and who had the authority to communicate with the doctors and nurses responsible for our care, was crucial.
Even outside of COVID, I counsel clients all the time not to put all their eggs in one basket. Yes, your husband or your wife might be the best person to make decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself. But what if your spouse is laying in the hospital bed right next to you? That’s not going to do you a whole lot of good. You need to have a Plan B. No one wants to think of tragedy striking their family but, as hard as it is, considering these scenarios and planning for contingencies is key to a comprehensive estate plan.
Curveballs, on the field and in life, are inevitable. They are coming, whether you are ready or not. Taking the time to plan now enables you to knock those curveballs right out of park! Be the MVP of your family and contact us to start planning today!
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