Embracing Life When Losing a Loved One

Five years ago my husband Walter, a devoted father and legendary Chicago Bears running back, succumbed to cancer. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him. But since his passing, I’ve realized there are many ways to embrace life before and after the unthinkable happens.

Preparing for death is not something we’re instinctively ready to do, but the truth is, every family faces loss. With that, there are emotional and financial steps we must take to ensure that we continue living out our hopes and dreams. It’s what our loved ones want most for us.

* Live life to the fullest. While they’re healthy, couples should develop “life lists” with joint and individual, short- and long-term goals. They’ll have peace knowing they’re doing everything they can to enjoy life – and each other.

* Balance your support system. Friends, family and faith gave me strength during Walter’s illness. Everyone has different support needs. Don’t be afraid to turn to a professional for counseling.

* Champion the legacy. Children brought tremendous joy to Walter. Through the Walter & Connie Payton Foundation, I share – and keep alive – his commitment to making a difference in the lives of neglected and abused children. Continuing a legacy helps the bereaved stay emotionally and spiritually connected – even by simply telling stories about their loved ones.

The sincerest counsel I offer couples is to make time for the “tough conversations.” It is much easier talking about difficult topics beforehand than trying to deal with them during a family tragedy.

* Life insurance: One of the best ways to strengthen your family’s financial security is to consider life insurance for both parents. Without it, families risk having to change their lifestyles to accommodate lost income or the responsibilities handled by a stay-at-home parent. This could mean tapping into savings, college funds or other assets.

* Pen to paper: When it comes to organ donation and life-sustaining measures, get your spouse’s preferences down on paper. Also, preparing a living will and granting power of attorney can help control your financial wishes and help avoid the potential pain of family disputes.

Losing a loved one is never easy. But you can take steps now – difficult or uncomfortable as they may be – to help ease your pain later. That’s why I’m working with State Farm Life Insurance Company to urge families to embrace life today and prepare for tomorrow. I hope you will.

Connie Payton is the wife of late Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton, who succumbed to cancer in 1999. She is currently the spokeswoman for the State Farm Embrace Life Program that honors women who persevere after the deaths of their spouses. Payton also is the author of “Stronger Than Cancer,” a compendium of advice, wisdom and inspiring quotations from families who have battled the disease. – NU