I held off making my will as long as I could. Each time I traveled, I felt as though I were a horrible parent. The truth: The thought of dying and leaving my cherubs behind brought me to tears so going room-to-room to parcel out my belongings didn’t happen. Finally, responsibility outweighed discomfort and I forced myself to be an adult by working with an attorney to write out my last wishes.
My sons are sixteen and nearly eighteen now (I know — don’t judge!) so I decided to include them in the process by asking them what they’d want of my physical assets when I’m gone. Here’s what I learned through the process:
- Cookbooks and recipes matter: I enjoy cooking and have amassed a beloved collection of cookbooks, many pages splattered and stained, my notes in margins for improvements or adjustments to make a favorite recipe gluten-free. When I turn the pages, memories of special evenings spring forth. Who had which meal on his last birthday. I know which book contains my son’s beloved vanilla bean pound cake. Funny that they both said they wanted this collection so I’ll let them sort out who gets which book. But it’s the notebook where I’ve collected individual recipes or have handwritten notes that were the most hotly contested. Who gets this one-of-a-kind treasure? Jack suggested that I create a duplicate to solve their problem. I’m thinking I’d like to go further and create individual books for each of them, including stories behind the recipes.
- Art collections have stories: When I look around my house the walls reflect back to me places I’ve traveled and memories I’ve amassed. For example, I know the pastel of the Matterhorn which I picked up in Zermatt, Switzerland, was made by a Dutch monk who travels there once a year for the sole purpose of being creative. I not only love the story but I love how the art looks similar to the photograph of the Matterhorn I nabbed by luck after days of waiting for cloud cover to disappear. There’s also the painting of Charleston’s Rainbow Row on a piece of historic slate. I’m the only one who knows why I selected these pieces and understands their sentimental value. It’s possible they have no significant monetary value but I’d want my kids to see them and remember how I loved to travel, recall my sense of adventure. I shudder to think they’ll end up in some Goodwill or garage sale.
Books are worth saving: Someone once said, “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy books and that’s pretty much the same thing.” I subscribe to this theory as is evidenced by my vast library. It was hard for me to hear that the only book my sons desired was my Complete Works of William Shakespeare, a textbook from a class I took in my senior year in college. It’s all marked up in the margins (the only book in which I’ve ever written). (I can still hear Cooper’s gasp when he saw my neat handwriting — in pen — in the book.) While this makes me proud — Shakespeare, after all, is The Man and the book is so hefty it could be used to weigh one down should there be a hurricane — I’m also sad. None of the other books made the cut. Perhaps they ought to use the remainder to create my funeral pyre. Now there’s a thought. (Just kidding!)
- Photos and movies are hot commodities: Several years ago, I went on a digitization kick. I digitized all our old home movies. (The problem is there’s only one copy and I have two kids.) Then I started converting the slides and photographs. The main difference is once the slides and photos are digitized, they’re easily shareable. Here’s the rub: the memories are locked away inside my mind’s filing cabinet. Although I’m (reasonably) young and (pretty) healthy, I’m the keeper of the castle when it comes to remembering things. I always have been — ask anyone in my family! So I have some work ahead of me to make what I leave behind meaningful.
The stuff didn’t matter as much as I thought: Guess what? I have a lot of stuff and most of it will be donated to some poor schlub after I’m gone. Sobering, isn’t it? There are things about which we didn’t talk, like Christmas ornaments, but I’m confident that those will be handled with loving care when the time comes. But making meaningful the stuff that mattered most to my kids — the cookbooks, the photos and movies — and the stuff that mattered to me — the art and books — will take some work.
As we went through this difficult process, several of our friends lost parents. It added gravity to the situation. In fact, I’d say in some ways it made us appreciate the importance of the conversation. We didn’t rush the experience, though. Having my will in place has lightened my worry. I know my children will be taken care of financially and the things we hold valuable will go to my kids and their families, the stories intact. At the end of the day, that’s what matters to me: not the stuff per se, but the reasons behind what made each item special.
If you’re thinking about getting your memories in order, Our Tales UnTold is here to support you. Contact us today for a free consultation.