Planners Gonna Plan

I don’t know if it’s the hastening of my time, the chemo, or the weather, but rain hasn’t been the only source of water in Chattanooga over the past couple of weeks. For whatever reason, I’ve been a bit more emotional than usual. My apologies to all that I’ve made uncomfortable by cracking in a meeting or conversation. Maybe the reappearance of the sun will help me master myself.

Speaking of the sun, what a weekend. While I'm a massive fan of overcast days, two days chock full of sunshine happened to be just what the doctor ordered. In addition to watching the boys play sports, I even got into the action myself. A an off-handed comment by my oldest about how about I “used to be athletic”, goaded me into a couple of days of backyard hoops. (Yes, I taught the boy a lesson). I also managed a trip to the driving range in order to shank a bucket of balls all over the God's creation. All in all, it was a good weekend and I feel great- just in time for chemo- yay!

I am a planner. It’s how I’ve made my living, and it’s how I live. As I wrote last spring, the bright side of my situation has been the advanced warning- I’ve been given a chance to take a victory lap. The bad news is that I was diagnosed with stage IV cancer and it was estimated that I had about a year to live- the good news is that I was given a one-year notice. The year has had its downsides (notably that little spell in Houston last fall), but on the whole, it’s been fantastic. It’s not that I’ve traveled or played any more than normal, but I’ve grasped the significance and importance of each journey in a way I otherwise wouldn’t. Knowing that my time is short has made that short time better.

How many people die suddenly, unexpectedly, or with little warning? If they are lucky then their basic planning bases are covered- life insurance, wills, and advanced directives*. Their ability to say goodbye, however, or to do more in-depth planning and preparation is often denied.

The goal of my planning effort is to make things as easy as possible for D and the boys after my departure. Things will be difficult enough for them without having to worry about all of the financial and legal details that go along with a death. I’ve left explicit instructions on how to handle all of the affairs of the house, and I’ve put a team of advisors in place to help shepherd them through this tough time. This team includes an attorney, a financial advisor, an accountant, a grief counselor, a pastor, and a funeral home director. (Special thanks and a shameless plug for my dream team of Miller & Martin; Henderson Hutcherson & McCullough; HHM Wealth; Northside Presbyterian; Heritage Funeral Home & Cremation**; and, Chico’s Bail Bonds.) Beyond being exceptionally competent, each of these friends has been incredibly supportive of my wife and me throughout this process.

That type of planning is important and necessary, but let’s be frank- it’s dry. Some of my other planning endeavors are much more fun. Specifically, I’ve been working through the process of leaving behind a record for my wife and boys to discover in the future. In essence, I’ve been working on ways to be a part of their lives when I won’t be around to be a part of their lives.

The first step in this planning was to properly catalogue the existing record. This involved the relatively straightforward task of assembling various assets- old yearbooks, journals, writings, and photos. Most of that stuff is self-explanatory, but I’ve left a little note with each asset to explain the context and in some cases tell a short story. I went through all of my photos and dated them as best I could, and identified the place and people in them. I also played censor. It’s not that I had a ton of incriminating pictures lying about, but I was young once (thank goodness Facebook and mobile phone cameras weren’t around in the early 90’s). Which is to say that some of those photos will be held in reserve until the boys are old enough to contextualize them.

Censored photo Exhibit A: There are few good answers
to the question "Dad, why were you riding a statue
of Woody Hayes at 2 in the morning?"
Serendipity has also been my friend during this process. Immediately after the birth of each child I went to a liquor store and bought a bottle of Dom Perignon and an expensive port suitable for aging. My thought was that at important dates in the future I would give these to the boys as a gift of significance. I probably would have gone with the champagne on their 21st birthday and the port as a wedding gift. I’m still waffling on those dates- will a 21 year old really appreciate an aged champagne of that caliber? Will they even choose to get married? While I’m still working on the exact timing of the gift, I’m happy that I made those purchases, and that I will be still be able to play some small part in the celebration of a couple of their big life events.

Another little piece of providence comes in the form of paper. Over the years I’ve done a bit a traveling, and one of “my things” is that where possible, I abscond with hotel stationery. I’ve often wondered if there was ever going to be a practical application for that booty, but came up with nothing…until now. I decided that I would write each boy a happy birthday letter for D to mail at the appropriate time in the future. Aside from the obvious point of telling them I love them, I use the letter to describe myself at that age and to share some nugget of wisdom that came from that year. What better use could that stationery be put to! In each letter I include a postscript about the trip the stationery came from, and encourage them to make (or avoid) that same journey for themselves one day. For the record, writing children birthday letters from beyond the grave is the most emotionally draining thing I’ve ever done.

Even a mundane trip to the store is fair game for a video.
Now that I’ve got those in the can, I’m gilding the lily by moving on to video. These days, if you’ve got a phone or a computer with you, you’ve got everything you need to make a movie. I’m trying to get in the habit of taking several five to ten minute breaks during the day to turn the camera on and tell a story. The truth is that whatever I’m saying doesn’t have to be particularly entertaining or well produced to have a great deal of value for the boys when I’m gone. This understanding makes it much easier to hit the record button. (It also pressures me to shave more than I like to- which is never).

I am now facing the melancholy moment when most of the planning work is done. In addition to its practical value, the planning has been a wonderful exercise. It’s been a way for me to keep busy, and it’s been therapeutic and cathartic. This has been one of the few things about my situation that I can control. It’s been a security blanket. Now that the planning is done, it’s time to pivot and turn my attention elsewhere. Any ideas?

*By the way, please consider this my admonishment to you to take of these things if you haven’t already. To my younger friends, buy more life insurance than you need while it’s cheap.

**This week I checked in at the crematory on Facebook, but noted that I was “just visiting” this time. I thought it was quite funny, my wife, not so much.


  1. It's clear that you love your family. Thank you for giving us a window into what this feels like for you. You have been honest and candid, a great gift to more than you know.

  2. Next planning assignment: Please outline, to the best of your ability, (I know you have detailed itineraries) your most memorable trips so that I may share these same experiences with our boys.