Taking Care of Unfinished Business

August 29, 2020, by Kristin Neva

“That’s the one project I wish I could have finished,” my husband, Todd, said while looking out a window at Comet’s doghouse. He had expressed similar sentiment on other occasions over the last few years.

After Todd was diagnosed with ALS, we sold our house in southeastern Wisconsin and built an accessible home in northern Michigan next to my parents. We got Comet the summer after building our new house. Todd hired somebody to build a doghouse for him with a removable roof so we could clean or replace the carpet. He insulated it with foam board, so Comet has warm shelter when he’s outside in the winter. He shingled the roof to match the roof on our house.

Todd also wanted to side it to match our house, but he couldn’t find a contractor interested in such a small project or a friend with the tools and skills to do it. The OSB board didn’t bother Comet, but Todd mused about ways to get it sided several times since.

Todd is the kind of guy who likes to finish tasks.

After he was diagnosed with ALS, Todd started checking off his list of unfinished business. He wrote letters to me and to each of our kids. He convinced me that we needed to sell our house, so we got that listed and ready to show. His brother helped him finish the one room in our 1925 bungalow that had not yet been renovated.

Todd reviewed his benefits to understand what resources we would have in place once he was disabled and after he’s gone. He organized his documents and made a list of accounts, passwords, and contact information for me. We established a relationship with a financial planner, because Todd wanted to make sure I had someone to advise me.

We met with a lawyer to draw up our wills in the event that something happens to either of us. He established me with power of attorney, preparing for a day when he couldn’t sign his own documents. Todd completed an advance directive, in case he’s in a situation in which he can’t communicate his desires for medical care.

He also checked off his list some things that were not all business. Todd had always dreamed of having a decent camera, so he purchased a full-frame Canon 5D, which we have since used to capture thousands of precious memories, from a trip to Disneyland to Comet in his newly sided doghouse.

Comet in his newly sided doghouse. (Courtesy of Lani Siirtola)

I had the idea to side the doghouse with cedar shakes after our neighbors added the decorative treatment to their gables. It made their house super cute.

So, when Todd once again bemoaned his unfinished project, I suggested that we purchase a bundle of the wood shingles, and he could coach our 10-year-old son to do the project.

Todd rolled out in his chair and gave Isaac step-by-step instructions. He helped him select and lay out the shingles. He gave him pointers on how to measure and mark the tiles for cutting. Isaac cut the pieces and stapled them in place.

“This is good for Isaac,” I told Todd. “He’s learning important skills from you.” It brought joy to my heart to see my guys work together. I’m glad Todd got to check the doghouse off his list, and I hope they get to work on more projects together.

I hope Todd has many more years, because our job of parenting our son and 14-year-old daughter is far from finished business.

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This article originally appeared in ALS News Today: Taking Care of Unfinished Business.

Taking Care of Unfinished Business

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