December 6th, a date that perhaps means nothing to you, but a date that means everything to our family. Every year on December 6th, we attend the Angel of Hope Candlelight Vigil at El Toro Memorial Park. This event draws together families who have lost children—December 6th every year – no matter what – rain or shine. In 2018, we all came together for this outdoor gathering in a complete rainstorm; that’s how important this evening is to all of us.
As we get closer to the vigil’s date, I naturally begin to reflect on our son, who we lost in 2017. September 4th, 2017. My wife, nearly full-term, was delivered that news that an expecting mother could never prepare for. A doctor, whom we had never met before, turned to us during an ultrasound and said that our soon-to-be-born baby boy was no longer with us. My wife would give birth the next day, and I would get the opportunity to hold my eldest son for a few hours before starting our grieving journey. December 6th has always been part of this journey.
If you’ve lost someone before or experienced a traumatic event, you understand. You have your own dates, your own vivid memories, and your own triggers that spark all these emotions. Amidst a grieving journey, you also gain a new perspective on life. Losing my son taught me about the fragility of life and gave me a deeper appreciation for family. I was reminded that tomorrow is never promised and I felt encouraged to be intentional about connecting with my family/friends in a deep and meaningful way every day.
There were also lessons to be gleaned as an advisor; I learned that finances and financial planning are more than numbers. Finances are deeply intertwined to all facets of our lives, and our finances often intersect with our saddest and most joyful moments. In the wake of our loss, we set out to complete a handful of financial planning items that we had left unfinished in the past. I want to dive into some of these items today, but inline with our discussion, I’d like to talk about the emotional reasons for executing these planning items. Each of these planning items also carries it’s own financial benefits too, but we will save those particulars for another day and another article.
After we lost our son, we purchased life insurance. Again, we became well acquainted with the fragility of life and the unpredictability of our own futures. I am the primary breadwinner in our household, and I wanted to make sure that my family would be financially cared for if something were ever to happen to me. I’m a financial planner, I always knew this was important, but I still seemed to back burner purchasing insurance and never made it a priority, as I should have. I look back now and realize how foolish that was, and I do my best to encourage others to prioritize implementing these protections (insurance) where necessary in their financial plan.
After we lost our son, we opened a Donor Advised Fund. We had always been charitably minded and enjoyed giving to different organizations, but we had never organized our giving thematically or intentionally. We named our Donor Advised Fund (DAF) after our son, and we started to organize our giving in a way that we felt honored him. My wife and I expanded the organizations we supported and started to look for opportunities to support causes relative to our loss. We wanted to help people that might be going through the pain that we had become familiar with. Our giving became more meaningful and more joyful.
After we lost our son, we completed our estate plan. This process can often feel daunting, as you are faced with decisions regarding your future passing or incapacitation and how you’d want your wealth passed down, and your children cared for. These are big decisions and discussions; many of us would rather avoid having or thinking about. The reality is, though, these conversations need to be had, and these decisions must be made. This process can be analogous to exercise – it can be painful and exhausting in the moment but rewarding in the long run, and you always feel good about getting it done. I can say I am thankful we got this completed, and there is an unexplainable peace that I developed, knowing that we had invested the needed time around this planning.
Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my son, and I am thankful that our family has established traditions, like December 6th, to remember and honor him. Every year on his birthday, we visit his gravesite, and I usually bring along a couple of children’s books to read him. This year, my wife captured a photo of me reading one of the books that I read every year, with my 5-month-old and 2-year old sitting alongside me, my three boys, all together. Such a surreal moment, to be sitting there in remembrance of my greatest grief accompanied by my greatest joy.
I am thankful for the perspective my eldest son has given me on life and the wisdom he’s bestowed on me that I share with others – life is precious, and it should be treated so. Again, I can give you a million financial reasons to check these planning items off your own list – life insurance, charitable strategies, estate planning – but perhaps there are even greater non-financial reasons to get these done. Reach out to your advisor, review your plan, tell him or her what matters most to you, and take one step toward one of those checklist items that matter because financial planning is about so much more than numbers.
And… That’s all I have for you this week. As always, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will be back next week with more of my Thoughts On Money.