Article by CATHERINE TURNER
There is a threat lurking within your family that you may not know exists. The story you are about to read is about Beth and her family. Who’s Beth? There is a little bit of all of us in Beth. She’s here to help me demonstrate to you the power of your legacy and why we all have a critical responsibility to “get prepared.” Beth sat in a chair of the sterile hospital room and looked at her mother’s body. She’d held her mom’s hand during the final minutes, grateful to have a mother who’d left a hole in her heart that was worth having. Ten weeks earlier, her mom had entered hospice. Beth spent as much time there as she could, making the two-hour round trip a few times a week between her full-time job, tending to the needs of her family, and a house in constant disarray. Now, she sighed, feeling both sadness and relief. The worst, she thought, was over. Sarah, with her family, was the first of Beth’s two siblings to arrive for their mother’s funeral. Being very practical, Sarah got down to “the business” of death. She and Beth chose a nearby funeral home for convenience all the while bickering over other details. They couldn’t agree on what mom would’ve wanted. Next, they headed to mom’s house to look for paperwork that might give them clues as to a will or insurance. Having to go through their mom’s piles of disorganization felt like an overwhelming task at such an exhausting time. After many hours, they finally found a will. They also uncovered a couple of past due bills from a life insurance company. After making calls, they discovered that while a premium monthly was paid on time for 28 years, the policy had now lapsed due to non-payment. There was no life insurance. When their brother Bob arrived with his wife and family, Beth was aghast at how the only thing that seemed important to them was which of mom’s belongings they could get their hands on. Bob’s wife claimed mom’s wedding ring, saying that Bob was entitled to it as the eldest child. Beth felt sick. She’d known mom had wanted her to have that ring, as Beth had been her main caretaker. Bob had been estranged from both his parents for years. It didn’t seem right to Beth, but she bit her lip to “keep the peace.” The funeral service felt rushed and impersonal. There hadn’t been time for Beth to sit with her grief and her loss. Financial stresses, accommodations, decisions, and bickering that filled those days and weeks were pushing her limits. She just wanted it to all be over. Sarah and Bob stayed long enough to attend the reading of their mom’s will. It was outdated. Mom left the two sisters equal shares of her house. Bob wasn’t even mentioned. He was furious and accused his sisters of manipulating their mom’s decision. Harsh words were exchanged, things ended abruptly, and it was years before the three of them ever had a civil conversation again. Are there any aspects of this story that struck a chord with you? Is this story as irritating to you as it is to me? Yes, so let us rewrite it by backing up a couple of years and tweaking a few simple decisions Beth and her mom should have made for a better result. Let’s imagine that two years prior to mom’s death, Beth began a conversation with, “Mom, I’ve been thinking about so many questions I’d have if something critical were to happen to you. Would you be willing to talk some of these things through with me?” This type of communication could have opened the door of clarity on a number of very important matters for the two of them and Beth’s siblings. By talking through questions and taking actions over a series of months, Beth could have encouraged mom to update her will, make amends with Bob, and write all her other wishes to address everyone’s concerns. These conversations may have been enlightening, and even contentious at times, but this type of interaction would have increased the family’s bond in profound ways as the revised story below shows: All mom’s favorite photos were put into a slideshow to match her words of wisdom in the eulogy. When Bob arrived, Beth gave him a letter mom had written and wanted him to have after her death. His heart, hurting for years, was truly allowed to mend. At the reading of mom’s will, her three children learned they were to split proceeds of the sale of her house and belongings, as well as what remained in her bank and investment accounts. Because Beth knew about her mom’s life insurance policy, it had been set on auto pay. Extra funds had been left to each of them, and to a charity their mother had supported. Along with all of her important documents, mom had left a list of her personal treasures in a safe. Her children, grandchildren, other relatives, and special friends were to be given something that had been meaningful to her. Beth now wears her mother’s wedding ring because her mother’s intention had been made permanent. The day before Sarah, Bob, and their families were to leave, all three families prepared a feast in their mother’s kitchen. They lingered over dinner for hours while laughing and reminiscing. The grandkids heard stories they’d never heard before. It was a truly joyful time and memories were made that most certainly gave mom much to smile about from above! There’s a lesson here for you, me, and all of us. We each live lives that are full of stories and experiences and moments that take our breath away. We all work hard to make every day count. We plan for events like birthdays, anniversaries, weddings. But planning for death…is difficult. I believe that if we start by being unafraid to acknowledge and talk about our inevitable deaths, we’ll be able to prepare as thoroughly for it as we do for those other major life events. It’s important to allow for our legacies to transcend the boundaries of space and time. To leave those who are most important to you in the best place possible, is in fact the most loving thing you can do because it impacts future generations of your family. And might it just be possible that if you have tied up your own loose ends, and stated your final thoughts, that you may indeed remove any fear of your own death? How much could that improve your quality of life? Please. Answer these questions for yourself. Ask them of the ones you love. Take action to create lasting legacies of love. So, now after mom’s death, Beth, Sarah, and Bob knew their mother’s wishes for an end of life celebration. Mom had left an account with a budget she was comfortable with and even listed those she wanted there, along with everyone’s contact info. The siblings appreciated connecting with mom’s friends as a way of sharing both grief and gratitude.