Column: Saying goodbye to the folks
My husband and I have been talking at length about the death of our parents. It’s not that we’re plotting to bump them off in some diabolical scheme to access their life insurance policies; we’re just concerned that we don’t know what their wishes are after they die. Who gets the heirloom ring? The second house? Do they want to be buried, and if so, where? Is cremation on the table? Doo is one of six kids and I am one of five, and neither of us wants to debate these questions while we are grieving. Luckily both sets of parents are healthy, but you just never know. (Next year my folks will embark on a 31-day cruise around South America where ships sink all the time!) Over the past month, we’ve broached the subject, to get the conversation at least started. Our parents’ responses have been fascinating.
Both fathers were clearly uncomfortable talking about their mortality. My dad seemed particularly agitated: “Your mother’s getting everything so don’t worry about it. If we both go, you five are on your own. Figure it out.” Then he promptly left the room. My mom on the other hand, immediately went to get a file which contains all her notes on their funeral arrangements. Yes, she has a “file.”
“People plan weddings and retirement parties. Why can’t I plan for this?” she asked. We talked for 45 minutes on her memorial service, which is to include three eulogizers (she already has them picked out) and her signature song, Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.” There is to be no urn or casket or any sad music, and we are to donate her body to the local medical school. “I taught for 33 years; there is no reason I should stop because I’m dead!” Yes, I have an awesome mom.
But when asked about “the estate,” she admitted she hadn’t thought much about it. My parents have a will, but it hasn’t been updated in a while, and no executor has been appointed. My dad can’t understand why I should care about this. But here’s the deal. If we don’t learn their wishes until after they’re gone, then we can’t ask questions if we need clarity or context. And unfortunately, that can cause brothers and sisters to bicker, fight, or even worse, sever relationships. All because of a stupid heirloom ring? No thank you.
So we’re both going to keep pestering our parents to make some tough decisions, and more importantly, communicate those decisions to at least a couple of family members. If they want to give everything to dear Aunt Mary, so be it. They just need to tell us before they die!