Preparing for Catastrophe

Over the past five years, the critically acclaimed show Breaking Bad has become a profound treatise on the War on Drugs, masculine identity, and the banality of evil. And all of this rose out of a very simple premise: Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher, just found out that he has terminal cancer and isn’t expected to live six months. His first thought is of his family, his pregnant wife and their teenage, physically handicapped son, and how they will survive the cost of his treatments and the loss of his income. Too proud to accept help from his friends, he chooses the less obvious path of making and selling meth to quickly stockpile enough money for his family to survive without him.

Hopefully, you are nowhere near this reckless and crazy, though you might recognize the impulse to do something drastic in an event like this. The sad truth is that often times the financial stress of catastrophic illness does more to tear families apart than the illness or death itself. The financial burden lingers and can even increase long after the cause ends.

It’s hard to to prepare for the unexpected, for the unimaginable, but in the event of a catastrophic event such as the diagnosis of a serious or terminal illness, you’d need to take the necessary steps to ensure financial security both during and after treatment. Often, these actions are put off as something to deal with when you’re “older.” But the best time to prepare is now, and not after something shocks you into motion.

Access and contacts are other things that people often forget their families might need one day. The internet has trained us to have 17 different passwords, to tell them to nobody, to never write them down, and to change them periodically. But there will be a time when people need access to your phone, computer, and email and you won’t be in a position to give them that and nobody knows the name of your lawyer or where to find the key to the safe deposit box.

Every adult needs to write this information down and store it somewhere safe (but also tell someone where that is). Information should be updated regularly as passwords, finances, and points of contact change.

Nothing can make the grief that comes with loss, or the pain and worry that comes with illness or injury somehow easier or more bearable. But by having the scary talks now, and doing the planning and paperwork, you can make sure that financial stress and fear isn’t added to that burden and you can make sure those first few months give you time to mourn or be a caretaker, and to ultimately survive what life throws at us.

After the sudden loss of her husband, Chanel Reynolds helps others learn from her misfortune.