Bartering Death for Life

Last will and testaments are designed to determine who will inherit a legacy (financial or otherwise) after death.  Often its contents are secret–revealed by an actuary.  Alas, the disappointment that follows the revelation that there is nothing to be had.  It’s fantastic though when someone is named in a will that might have otherwise been overlooked.

But what happens when the living use their will to manipulate a future that is uncertain?

When my father was alive, he made a statement to my mother. He was not at all worried about what would happen after death. He said, “if you die before me, I’ll have all your things thrown into a dumpster!”  He didn’t want to be bothered with the remnants of anyone else’s remains. It hurt my mom to hear this.  And when he pre-deceased her, it took years to sift through his personal belongings.  An eventual house fire finished off the job, and now we sift through the ashes (and the boxes of personal effects that survived the disaster).

The only will he left was one that was surely crafted with the help of a spouse, rather than legal counsel.  But it didn’t matter, because all he left us was a loan.  Not alone, but a LOAN.  Bills!

Fire insurance converted that debt into assets.  The last will and testament that once existed is irrelevant after years of recovery and acceptance of things we can not control.  His legacy lives on in spirit.  The circumstances that precipitated his death have been forgiven. We don’t stress over the recovery.  We miss him and reminisce about the the way he carried himself, his thoughts, and the impact he had on us.


He once told me, “death is a part of life, son…the end part.” He’d chuckle, but I would snare in the inappropriateness of it all.  He said if you ever want to know how much I love you, take a look at my will, and then he’d gesture to where in the house he kept all of his important documents.  I never had the desire to check.  It was irrelevant.  I didn’t realize then how much HE would be missed once he was gone.  No life insurance claim can compensate for that. There’s no grave to visit–no ashes to hold.  Only a memory and a whisper.  “If dad were still here…”

But his widow has survived.  All that was his was replaced with what is she has earned. Sweat and tears, a new legacy is born. Everything has changed but the address.  Photo reproductions line the coffee table as we look back, laugh, and cry.

Talks of a new last will and testament recur occasionally.  “How will we divide all of this?” Who will get the house?  Who will manage the affairs.  Who will liquidate the assets and pay off the debt.  Whoever volunteers is certainly entitled to a little something for their troubles.  I felt better about it when I was convinced that it was all trash.

But their are pictures…and memories.  Heirlooms and keepsakes aren’t replaceable, but the don’t have value to anyone but family.  I am reluctant engage in the plans because I don’t want any of it.  I resent that these talks elude to entitlements, requirements, obligations, and guilt.  I don’t want to behave differently because there is a reward on the other side of death.  I’d rather not.  I decline.

There is a guilt in not wanting be bothered.  And the grandchildren hear things that equate to spoils and unearned riches.  Is it fair to them to not consider their well being?  Are they not entitled to a hand-me-down or a piece of a legacy?

For some, a legacy is inherited.  It could be something as simple as a surname.  For others it’s a dynasty.  For us, it is neither.  It’s a burden…and an empty promise.  Good will and favor now will translate into an inheritance 10 years (or 30 years) from now. That’s a long time to pledge allegiance to an otherwise healthy matriarch.

If I had a choice, I’d give up any supposed riches for a nice cup of coffee and a non-judgmental conversation that is not disguised as a lecture. I long for genuine advice and fellowship. I choose life over death.

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As I evolve, death still seems so far off.  With no will of my own, I can only hope that my own children will not sacrifice their character for a few cold bank notes.  I procrastinate the inevitable.  I hope that I will not fall to manipulating their loyalty in exchange for insincere elder care and a power-of-attorney.

I choose the living.  I will not barter a lifetime of wealth (and eventual death) in exchange for appreciation while I am alive.  I can not take it with me, but only my namesake will be my legacy.  The rest can be thrown away.

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