The Greatest Gift We Can Give to Our Family

My parents were born during the depression. They enjoyed 55 years of marriage before passing away eight months apart. At the time, I was a senior business analyst with college age daughters.

As the youngest sibling and the only daughter, my brothers elected me to clean out our parents’ house. When the house sold in weeks, my plan to leisurely clean it out after work became a stressful push to complete in days.

With the help of my husband and a handful of friends, we sorted a lifetime of belongings into three piles: keep, donate, and trash. Most of my parents’ medications expired two decades before they did!

Mom and Dad were entrepreneurs who kept all their receipts — in triplicate. We paid a company to come to the house and shred 22 contractor-size bags of documents.

The night before the closing, I walked through my parent’s empty house for the last time and wailed like a baby. As I lay in bed that night, I realized someday my girls would have to clean out my house. I rolled over to my husband and said, “What about us? What do we need to do to make it easier for the girls?”

Gerald is not the father of my children. From previous marriages, he has one daughter and I have two. We dated long distance for years before getting married. The year my parents passed away, we celebrated our eighth anniversary.

As we mentally inventoried our home, we laughed about the piles of love letters our girls would NOT want to read. There were boxes of receipts for all the bills I’d paid over the past seven years. After all, I’d been trained by the best!

We started the process of “dostadning,” a hybrid word for the Swedish concept of death cleansing. We threw away those love letters and unnecessary receipts. We cleaned out photo albums and tchotchkes. But when a close friend almost died, we realized we needed to do more. We needed to be prepared for emergencies.

Our friend Dan’s simple surgery turned into months of diminished physical and mental capacity. While his children had the legal authority to make life and death decisions, they did so by guessing what he would have wanted. They didn’t invoke financial power of attorney, thinking he would get better. In time, Dan did recover, but not without ruining his credit and causing unnecessary stress for his family.

After Dan’s incident, Gerald and I reorganized our important information into a Legacy Drawer. We identified what quality of life looks like and wrote down our celebration of life wishes. Then we shared the information with the girls.

Cleaning out stuff feels good, and it will help our family after we are gone. But being prepared for emergencies protects us, and our family, while we are alive.

There will always be expired medicine to throw away. But real peace-of-mind comes from empowering your family and giving them a plan. It is the greatest gift we can give.

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