Estate planning lawyers like the one I’m married to, see all kinds of family drama. Making wills to pass along money and family possessions to one’s children provides relatives or friends with ample opportunities for indecision, meltdown and serious family revolt. Normally sane adults are capable of relationship dysfunction that staggers even the seasoned legal advisor.
Lots of books and advice columns have been written to guide families through this arduous task. Since most of us aren’t going to receive our share of a sizable trust fund to liberate us from work and worry, the actual spoils for division can be anywhere from modest to silly. But, you’re still hurt if your older sister gets the yellow pie plate, even though she never bakes and you are in tight with the Food Network.
I’ve had years to watch family’s squabble over stuff among those near and dear to me. Maybe moving from state to state 11 times as I grew up has made me possession resistant. My brother and I had to shed nearly everything but the most treasured possessions before we moved on to the next hotel (my father’s job meant we lived in one,) where there was little space for the debris of small children who wouldn’t be staying long. It wasn’t a punishment, it was just what I was used to, and today those skills help me to empty closets and throw out bell-bottom pants even if they fit. They don’t.
My day’s frigid morning walk made me think about this passage of money and goods that worries us so. Why do we care about old things we never used and maybe never liked? Competition between siblings accounts for some of the need to acquire things that rise just above garage sale vintage in value. I wonder if the drama over who gets what is more about not letting go of family? If you are lucky enough to be part of a loving, protective family it is impossible to say goodbye, no matter what the size or content of the remains of family life. Troubled families have just as much difficulty parting with the past, because it is hard to stop wishing that life had been different. Most of us are somewhere in the middle of this continuum of varied family models.
I’d like to be remembered for my intention to do the best I could, even when I don’t. I wanted my son to know that I loved him to the moon and back; that he drove me crazy with worry and grief; and that I’d do it all again if I could. I want my friends to remember that I never was as confident as I sounded, but I always believed in them. My husband’s fortitude in the face of loss helps me to get up every day and give life another chance, even when the future seems to be draining hope at a seriously dangerous rate.
I’m moving my 93-year-old mother for the fifth time in eight years. She is on a quest to beat the odds of aging in a campaign of dodging and weaving; staying in constant motion. So, I’ve had little time to prepare for Christmas There will be at least some new stuff coming into my house. I do love the beautiful Christmas tree that found its way into my living room. The lights are magical and each ornament has a story that I have memorized with great joy. I might write about these gathered treasures and leave the stories for someone to read. If I could pass on to you the sound of your child’s laughter, or the echo of a parent’s smile, I would most certainly do this.
The rest of the holiday stuff will have to be put away, used and hopefully appreciated as the reflection of a thoughtful giver’s heart. But the truth is I care much less about the any of the other stuff that migrates into my life. Some day it will all be trash that must be packed, sorted and, god forbid, fought over. Another holiday season with people I love is my gift. That and the gift I give myself: I will try to fill up my personal reservoir with hope, even if the current worldview may not support peace and grace. There’s always a chance that tomorrow will be a great day to have a great day. And, I can’t wait.
Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Joyous Kwanzaa or Enjoy December 25, 2016. Whatever you celebrate, hold onto your story. Pass on the good stuff. The trash is picked up on Tuesday.