Author: Nancy Wade
As a young child, I was unaware of the intricacies of my parents’ lives and of the decisions that were required of them as adults. My younger brother and I were born into different birth families in the 1950’s and then adopted by our parents into a secure and loving home. My Dad, an architect, and my Mom, a nurse, were both thoughtful people; they knew that unexpected life events could sometimes occur and they planned accordingly.
I do remember a few conversations between them when I was about 10 years old. They were apparently working with an attorney to draw up their wills. They were trying to decide what would become of my brother and I, should something happen to them. In the event of their unlikely deaths, who would raise my brother and me? Their criteria included selecting a family who would keep us in our same town and church, who would impart strong values, and who would work to ensure our future education. I can clearly remember them telling us that if anything were to happen, we would be cared for by close friends of our family, the Harberts, who had four young daughters. Although I was, of course, frightened by the thought of my parents’ demise, I remember feeling delighted at the prospect of having four sisters. My brother, on the other hand, viewed that prospect with dread. Fortunately, that scenario never played out. Our parents raised us until we both left home for college in the early 1970’s.
As my brother and I grew into adulthood, we remained close to my parents and to each other. In July of 1980 we experienced a tragedy that taught us how unpredictable life can be. Our Dad went out for a morning run in our neighborhood, suffered a massive heart attack and died before the Flight for Life helicopter could transport him to the hospital. He was only 58 years old. If we learned anything from Dad’s death, it was that anticipating the unexpected and making plans accordingly was the smart course of action.
I had married and given birth to two children in my 20’s but by my late 30’s the marriage was on the rocks. My Mom had been nervous all along about the likelihood that my soon-to-be ex-husband would pay child support and so years earlier she had taken out a life insurance policy on him. I’m pretty sure I rolled my eyes when she told me about this but now, looking back, I can see the wisdom of her planning. And again, fortunately, he did pay child support and is still alive and well and so that life insurance policy was not needed.
As the oldest child, I had always assumed Mom would make me the executor or health care proxy of her estate and so I felt a mixture of disappointment and surprise when instead, Mom named my brother for these roles. She was slightly defensive as she explained her thought process to me. “He’s just got a better head for numbers,” she said. “He knows more about my finances than you do. I really hope you understand.” As often happens in families, Mom’s decision shifted the dynamic in ours. Suddenly, in my eyes, my brother’s status was elevated and it took me awhile to adjust to that fact.
I am so very grateful for the legacy around estate planning that my mother left us with. She was such a planner! When her health began to decline about 12 years ago, she had all the necessary documents in place. She had made adjustments over the years; everything was current and understandable. She had taken the time to explain everything to my brother and me. When Mom died under hospice care in July of 2013, we had only our grief to process. Mom’s gift to us was that her affairs were in order and we felt secure in the knowledge that we understood what she wanted.
The Ministry of Last Things committee at First Congregational Church can help you take the necessary steps to get things in order for your family, starting with the decision to select someone who can speak for you when you cannot speak for yourself. It can be found here. This group of thoughtful and organized people has taken the time to create a comprehensive resource toolkit to help you and your family so that, upon your death – whether expected or unexpected – your affairs will be as organized as possible. I can tell you from experience that this is one of the greatest gifts of all.