Seattle mom's book full of advice on things we'd rather not think about
Chanel Reynolds and her son Gabi know what matters most.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
Chanel Reynolds can’t stop life’s inevitable tragedies from striking your family.
But she can at least help make some parts easier to endure.
If the Madrona parent’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably from Get Your Shit Together, the viral website Reynolds founded after her husband’s sudden death in 2009, when their son was only 5 years old. She galvanized people to write wills, buy life insurance and handle other practicalities before it was too late.
Now she’s written a broader book, "What Matters Most: The Get Your Sh*t Together Guide To Wills, Money, Insurance, and Life’s 'What-Ifs.'"
The book is full of advice that could apply to situations beyond a spouse’s death — supporting aging parents and sick friends come to mind.
It’s also a wrenching memoir of getting the sort of call (or voicemail, in this case) we all fear, learning that her husband, José Hernando, had been hit by a van while biking on Lake Washington Boulevard. Reynolds brings us along for the dread and decision-making of the days that followed in Harborview’s intensive-care unit, deciding to withdraw her husband’s medical care, holding him as he died, lovingly washing his body, telling her son Gabi and stepdaughter Lyric that he wasn’t coming home — and all that came after.
It’s deeply personal and — the non-tragic parts, at least — deeply familiar to parents. It makes the practical advice stick, even for those who ignored countless lectures telling us we need to arrange those exact same things.
“I’m not your financial adviser, I’m your friend sitting across the table,” says Reynolds.
“I never could have escaped the suffering that comes along with the grief and loss, but some of the suffering would have been — optional, I call it.”
If the couple had upped their life insurance when they moved into a larger Mount Baker home, for instance, she might have been able to pay off their mortgage instead of selling the house at a loss. If she’d had the passcode to José’s cell phone — still locked today — she could have saved time and grief and possibly precious memories.
The Get Started Checklist and free templates on her initial 2013 website, which soon reached more than a million downloads, helped people who still had time to plan. But others reached out to Reynolds, suffering the same sort of tragedy she lived through. She hopes the book offers something for them, too.
“We’re just not good about dying in this country … It doesn’t have to be so much of a mystery,” says Reynolds.
If she has one piece of advice for Seattle’s Child readers, it’s this:
“A lot of people get stuck on completing their wills because they don’t know who to name [as] a guardian.” You can always change your mind, she notes. You can update the will; you could list conditions, or even different guardians, for different times of the year.
“Writing someone down and listing a backup is better than not doing it at all.”
Reynolds' website has more information plus details on book signings, workshops and more.
Seattle parent Rebekah Denn finally got her will and other paperwork settled after hearing about Chanel Reynolds in 2013.