In 2008, my sister-in-law Eileen went kicking and screaming to meet with lawyers and do some estate planning. There were plans to be made, trusts to be drawn, documents to be written, all focused on some unimaginable, unforeseeable time when she or her husband might be sick, or worse.
But my big brother Rob was insistent. It came from a family history of heart troubles and weight issues, and from having a pesky younger brother who writes about financial problems and who had seen too many horror stories about what happens when there is no plan.
And so, despite Eileen's objections, they met with the lawyers.
Eileen did not find the planning process distasteful. Although it wasn't pleasant subject matter, it was not morbid. It did not feel like a blessing when it was finished, but neither did it feel like a curse. It was like going for a visit to a doctor or dentist; you'd rather be drinking lemonade on the veranda, but it wasn't a sharp stick in the eye.
And then Rob got ill. On May 31 of last year, he was diagnosed with a condition called primary amyloidosis, a rare, unforgiving, unrelenting disease that attacked him everywhere, determinedly trying to swallow him whole. The disease came out of nowhere; he did nothing to catch it.
Though researchers don't know that much about primary amyloidosis, one thing they seem to be sure of is that you don't catch it as a side effect of making an estate plan, drawing up a will or preparing for the one certainty in life, which is that it will someday end.
On July 16, just 46 days after being diagnosed, my brother died. He was 57.
I will miss him more than I can conjure words to describe.
I wrote about him, at his insistence, here in late June, because he believed that his story -- and the life lessons it was making so obvious to him -- would be important to others. Less than 10 days before he died, he made me promise that I would write about him again, when his time was up, again because his story would help others.
"We talked about the importance of family and of having the right perspective in that article," he told me, "but people need to know that they can't wait to take care of the important things in their life, too. I don't know how many days I've got, but once you think you can count your days, think of how bad it will be on you and your family if you haven't done the hard stuff."
Rob said things while leaving a blank in some sentences, a space for a number; he told me to fill it in someday. Sadly, I can do that now.
"If you had only (46) days to live, what would you not want to do and not want to worry about?" he asked.
He started to make a list.