Planning for Change

Life presents us with our daily challenges. We know that these challenges are easier to manage when we confront them with a plan. One item which hits us is death. Death is inevitable with the only unknowns being when, how, why and where?

This blog post is meant to help in planning for events that we know will present themselves sooner or later. The population of North America is aging as the Baby Boom generation enters its epoch. As baby boomers we are experiencing death more often as our friends, families and the world around us is shows us our mortality.

Death is one of those life events that is always a burden emotionally and financially as it presents a whole set of new challenges to manage. The challenges become easier to deal with if there is a plan in place. The basic plan item is a will. The complexities of where we live and what we have accomplished can create a whole myriad of details that need to be dealt with at specific times. Making sure that the plan works is usually achieved with the help of a professional estate planner. A plan should be started as soon as there are dependants to consider as they become a participant to the plan. Once started the plan needs to be reviewed and revised as we age or as life changing events challenge the status quo. A basic plan is to help and aid the people you will leave when you die. A basic plan helps when death is unexpected. A more detailed plan is needed when death becomes more of a statistical inevitability.

End of Life planning is a personal and soul seeking challenge as we are presented with answering the questions we avoid. Few like to consider their own mortality let alone that of their family members.  Answers to all of these questions expose many myths and wrong information. The speed at which we do our end of life plan depends on each person and family. Setting up a plan or adjusting an existing plan should not be done hastily.

Creating an End of Life plan can be an emotional experience and time-consuming exercise in which patience and intelligent thought needs to be the focus.

Many cities and regions in North America are seeing the growth of End of Life planning professionals. Before you consider purchasing a Pre-Need Funeral Insurance plan you need to consider your needs with an independent advisor. The whole pre-need insurance industry is fraught with dangers and pitfalls. The right plan will save you in a variety of ways which will be the subject of a future blog post.

The End of Life planning should always be done with someone who is experienced in the funeral industry and is independent of the funeral providers. An independent professional will be able to provide an unbiased and resource based guide to your specific needs.





Life After Mom

Re-Posted from

November 2014 marked the two year anniversary of the day I lost my brave, wonderful mum to cancer. A day you never really think will happen. But it did. And she was gone. It was a very strange kind of anniversary, if you can call it that – I wasn’t sure whether to do something to acknowledge it, or to shut myself away and wallow in my own grief…instead I chose to just go to work and get on with the day, because I really didn’t know what else to do.

Back in October 2012, when we found out that mum’s cancer had returned and this time it was terminal, the overriding question I had was ‘how long?’.  Of course, no one can ever tell you exactly long but that’s the one thing that was burning in my brain. How long have you got left? How long before you leave me? They said she had an aggressive tumour in the psoas muscle (bottom of the back/hip), which in turn had blocked the function of the kidneys. She had an operation to have stents inserted to support the her kidneys, and they thought they had caught them in time, but just six short weeks later, she was gone.

Suzanne, aged about 7 or 8, with her Mum.

I think I started grieving for mum weeks before she passed – I don’t know why, perhaps it was my way of preparing to lose her. We never really spoke about what was coming in detail; she always told us that she had to deal with it in her own way and she was so strong and brave during those last weeks. What she did tell me was that although she didn’t like what was happening, she had made her peace with it and she wasn’t scared. But then that was mum all over; strong, practical and a fighter – when life dealt her a bad hand (and she’d had her fair share of struggles in the past), she dug deep, picked herself up and carried on. I guess in her eyes this was no different.

The weeks after she died were very strange – it was like living a semi-dream state, where your heart feels the awful reality of what’s just happened, but your head carries you on. I had an 18-month-old to think of, I had work to go back to and in a very surreal way, life just goes on. Christmas came and went, and we all went through the motions as a family, not really sure what else to do.

Just eight weeks after she passed, I found out I was pregnant with my youngest son. I have no doubt in my mind that he was a gift from her, the circle of life, one-in-one-out. So the first year of life without her went by in a haze of pregnancy and I gave birth to my beautiful angel baby just 11 months after losing my mum. It was such a bittersweet day and I wish with all my heart that she could have been there.

I thought I’d be a bit of a mess in the weeks after giving birth, hormones flying all over the place and grief rearing its ugly head with a vengeance, but to my surprise, I just got through it. I think I just battened down the hatches and got on with it (sound familiar?), because, quite frankly, what else can you do? Falling apart wasn’t an option.

So here I am, two-and-a-half years later and I think the magnitude of losing mum, having a baby and all of the milestones in-between are starting to sink in. My sense of loss and missing is more acute now than it was in those early days. My heart aches when I think of how much I want to tell her, to share with her and how desperately I wish she could meet her new grandson. I hate the fact that I can’t just pick up the phone and talk to her and ask for advice. I hate the fact that my sons won’t know how wonderful their nana was. And I hate the fact that I can never fully enjoy my own Mother’s Day with the boys, because it’s always tinged with sadness.

Suzanne and her Mum, approx. 2008

Of course there are so many thing that I’m grateful for too; that I got to have her as my mother for 32 years, that she taught me to be the person I am today, that she loved me unconditionally and I grew up knowing I was truly cherished and that I belonged. Something that I will make sure my sons know as they grow up too.

I don’t know if these things get easier, all I do know is that you have to slowly come to terms with living a new kind of normal. Things will never be the same without her in my life, but I have to believe she’s still here, watching over me and making sure everything will be alright. Grief is a strange beast, and often it will creep up and overwhelm you in the blink of an eye. Allowing yourself time to feel the pain and process your loss is important – and I’m only fully realising the extent of this two-and-a-half years on.

I wasn’t even sure whether or not to write this post initially, but I’m glad I did. I guess the point of it is to mark the fact that she lived and died – to talk about her out loud and remember that I still have a mother, she’s just not here right now.


The grief of losing a child: How my daughter’s difficult yet magical life inspired me to write children’s books

Repost from

Two weeks ago, I emerged from Waitrose, rather pleased with my purchase of reduced edamame beans and a jar of artichoke hearts, when my eyes locked on to a Citroën Berlingo in the car park and I started to sob uncontrollably. I’m not normally one to cry so easily, particularly at the sight of a green leisure activity vehicle, but that’s how grief attacks you – it swallows you up in the most unexpected places, at the most inopportune times; without warning you are suddenly awash with the hollow, helpless, desperate feeling of losing someone, missing someone, loving someone who is no longer there.

My 10-year-old daughter Clementine is that someone. She had cerebral palsy and was officially termed “life-limited”, but she was always surprisingly healthy and we had thought she would be with us for many more years. We were wrong. Early on 8 December last year I came downstairs to get my toddler son his milk. While it was warming, I went into my daughter’s bedroom, and as I bent down to kiss her, a sickening shiver ran up my spine as I realised that she wasn’t breathing. I remember the rest of the morning only as a foggy nightmare – screaming to my husband, calling 999, doing chest compressions on my little girl although I knew she had already left her broken body, trying to keep our two young sons calm; ambulances, teams of doctors making frantic, futile efforts, a nurse’s voice saying, “we’re sorry for your loss” before I’d even processed just what I had lost, and then a hospital room with just me clinging on to the still-warm body of my darling Clementine.

I am not an attractive crier. Some folk can shed beautiful, delicate tears. I, on the other had, gurn horribly, my mouth widening like an Aardman character, my eyes disappearing into my blotchy cheeks, snot dripping from my scrunched-up nose. So at the supermarket that day, I quickly retreated to my car, hiding this weeping monstrosity from the world, and by the time I got home all I was thinking about was why I had spent so much money on an edible thistle.

And that’s how it is. Despite our horrendous loss, aside from the odd unexpected bout of car-park crying, we superficially revert back alarmingly quickly to our normal selves. We laugh and cook and shop and get drunk and make stupid jokes, just weeks after this enormous juggernaut has crashed into our lives. Yet underneath it all remains this dark, visceral thing we call “grief”. And we don’t know how to deal with it.

In some societies, grief is embraced, encouraged even, but in ours it is most often avoided; our apparent return to normality is taken as a sign that we are over it, nothing more to be said. Just two or three weeks after she died, most people stopped talking to us about Clemmie. Good friends don’t ask us how we are any more; and I don’t know if it stems from the thought that we don’t want it brought up, the fear that we may break down, or whether they think that we’re fine now so why bring it up. Either way, I know it comes from love. But it is always there for us, at the back of our minds, whatever we do, however jovial an evening we are having, and sometimes it would be nice just to be asked the question, “How are you?”, even though we will probably answer, “Fine, thanks”, happy just to have it acknowledged that we’re still going through something huge and devastating.

And the truth is that even we who are in the eye of the storm don’t know how to deal with it. In the first couple of months, crying became a guilt-laden competitive sport between my husband and me. “Have you cried today?” “No, have you?” “Yeah, really went for it this morning.” “You lucky thing.” You want to cry all the time, but you physically can’t. We make jokes and then feel guilty for laughing; we worry that we’re talking to our sons about Clemmie too much, or not enough; we worry that we look too upset, or not upset enough; and when a new mum at the toddler group asks how many children I have, I am totally thrown. I have just met her and don’t feel it’s really fair to her to say, “Well, my daughter died last month” – I mean, what’s she supposed to do with that?

But I can’t bring myself to just tell her I have two sons – it would feel like I was writing Clemmie out of our history, and most likely she would follow that up with questions like, “Did you ever want a daughter?”, which would result in an ever increasing web of macabre lies. So instead I mumble and stutter an answer which probably makes no sense and leaves the poor woman perplexed as to why I was vague about the number of children I had.

So why can’t we talk about it? I don’t mean in a “let’s all get our feelings out in the open and really emote this thing out” kind of way, but rather in an everyday way? In a “how’s it going?” way? In a way that understands that while grief lasts a lifetime and not just until after the funeral, we learn to live with it not by ignoring it but by being able to talk about the person we have lost without it being a big embarrassing deal for everyone involved in the conversation.

Why is it that death is such an awkward taboo, when it is something we will all, without exception, have to deal with at some point in our lives? I can’t help but think that if we learnt from a young age that death is sad but is also something that can be talked about, we might not have such a problem with it in adulthood. I am no child psychologist, but as a writer and illustrator, I do know children’s books; and I know that for the most part, Western children’s books cover little more than bears and mice having a cuddle.

As well they should, of course. But surely, alongside the cuddly reads, children’s books can also deal with more interesting issues? Children are naturally inquisitive and accepting. This is the perfect time to talk about disability, adoption, different family set-ups, different coloured skin, bullying and, yes, even death. If gently introduced, these topics can be raised in a way that allows questions to be asked, and what better way to do that than through picture books?

I have long thought that children as young as three or four are not only capable of enjoying stories that cover meaningful issues, but are actually eager for them as long as it is done in a funny, enjoyable way. I have been lucky enough to find a publisher who has encouraged me to include such issues; disability in Just Because, illness and hospitals in Sometimes, adoption in Zoo Girl, the arrival of a new sibling in Mr Super Poopy Pants, and death in my latest book, Missing Jack. I should point out, however, that Missing Jack is about the death of a cat, which is clearly utterly incomparable to the death of a person. But I hope it at least introduces the ideas of loss, grief and moving on to little ones who will inevitably experience these things at some time, be it a goldfish or a grandparent. The book was written before Clemmie left us, but it feels right that it should come out now.

As for me, I have spent the past 10 years being inspired by my daughter, who did nothing, said nothing, and yet had such a huge, calming, joyful effect on everyone who met her. She will continue to inspire everything I do. And perhaps eventually I will be able to look a Citroën Berlingo in the eye without gurning like a snotty tree frog as I remember our many family trips in Clemmie’s motability model. My husband trying in vain to listen to a Radio 4 programme, Benjy in the back shouting “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, Toby listing all the Lego sets we simply must buy him, while Clemmie sits serenely in her wheelchair, the boys holding her hands, just the five of us. Always the five of us.

‘Missing Jack’ by Rebecca Elliott (Lion Children’s Books, £9.99) is out now