Monday, June 9, 2014

It Was Her Wish

"Are you kidding me, it's in the Bible......follow the dying person's last wish!"  It is not often that my husband invokes the Bible, he is an atheist after all.  But when he does, he is serious, and he is expressing the fact something is ancient.  Not just some new trendy idea -- it dates back to biblical times.

We had been discussing the fallout of my mother's memorial service. Yes, such an event can have fallout. And from my vantage point of an estate planning and probate attorney, I can tell you that it happens more often than not.  But here I was, the daughter, not the attorney, in the mini-drama surrounding her final wishes. Thankfully that legal education of mine fortified my backbone, allowing me to stand tall and carry out her wishes, despite the descent of her grieving relatives.

With no uncertain terms, she had clearly expressed her wishes to me from the passenger seat of my Honda Civic.  Sick for many years, we often found ourselves with me driving her home following a hospital discharge. Both aware that her health was declining and that we are all human. Eventually her time would come.

I broached the topic with "I know you don't want to think about these types of things, but if something should happen, would you want a service like the one we did for dad?" First came the sideways glare, and then (I can quote her here) “I don't want nothin' in the god damned church in Brooklyn. I married my first husband (my dad was her second husband) there, and that is where they buried my baby....without me being there. No! I have no happy memories of that place. Do it at the church you go with with the kids, FUS. And I hate my picture, so don't do one of those silly poster boards plastered all over the place. Hmmmh” And that was that, she looked forward and we proceeded home.

Over the years I revisited the topic, wanting to make sure I knew her wishes. And the answer was always the same. Had she been a client, I would have advised her to put her wishes in writing through Wisconsin's Authorization for Final Disposition. But she was mom, and that piece of paperwork was never completed. Her final day on earth was February 16, 2014, a Sunday. The following Monday I contacted the minister at FUS and began setting in motion her plan, her wishes.

It would be a memorial service, not a funeral. It would be held at the First Unitarian Society in Madison, not the Methodist church in Brooklyn where so many other funerals for the family had occurred. It would be several months after her death, not in a few days. It would be her wishes, not the boiler plate funeral of prior generations. We all grieve in our own ways. Communications with her relatives are strained if not severed. She was my mom, and I followed her wish. My question to you dear reader, is what is your wish and who can make sure it happens? The time will come, we just do not know when.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Mary and Baby Jesus Planter Finds a New Home: Tales From the Land of TPP

My phone chimed, indicating a new Facebook alert. Quick downward swipe of my fore finger and there it was, notice that the Mary and Baby Jesus planter had a new home! Relieved, a smile enveloped my face knowing that: one, I managed to keep this item out of a landfill; and, two, a piece of my mom and dad would live on in the home of neighbors who know the meaning of “it takes a village”. The expression “you cannot take it with you” has never had more impact on me than it did at the moment I read that comment. You die, but your stuff remains. And then the question, where will it all go?

Her final breath came on a Sunday, two days after Valentine's Day. One audible exhale akin to sinking into a warm bath, and my mother's earthly days came to an end. It took a few moments for the reality to sink in. She was gone. Both of my parent's were now gone. At age 40 I was an orphan. Sobs finally arrived, having been stoic during her final months, as her body clearly shut down but not her spirit. The polar vortex of 2014 held on firmly that month, and not until its release in late Spring was I able to tackle the TPP.

The what you ask? The TPP. Not only am I her daughter, but I am her estate planning and probate attorney / daughter. TPP is the lingo we use in my line of work to refer to her stuff. Her items, anything from a wedding ring to piano. And after the initial waves of grief washed over me, with the memorial service behind me, and her ashes comfortably settled in the plot next to my dad, was I able to fully face the reality of emptying the ranch house at 1121 Valley Stream Dr. Their abode for 38 years, one that held family heirlooms, garage sale finds that may or may not be antiques worthy of Antiques Roadshow, 8th grade insect collections, bag upon bag of canceled checks from the auto business they owned in the 1970s to 1990s, and mildewed junk that should have been tossed decades earlier. It was a new mountain to face.

The Unitarian Universalist in me advocated for recycling as much stuff as possible. “Empty the jars of applesauce from 1979 and keep those canning jars out of the landfill”, the voice in my head would shout! Another voice, the frugal one, saw value, even minute value in each item. Hey, I could sell this for $2 on Craigs List. And then there was the exhausted lawyer who happens to be a wife of a business owner and mother of a 5 and 3 year old arguing for the most time-efficient manner for emptying the house and getting it market-ready.

It was a mixture of all three who prevailed in emptying the house. Lessons I walked away with were:
  1. Hire someone with time and drive to post items on Craigs List, offering them 50% of the earnings. Requirement, you must trust the person. I am amazed at what a little motivation can do to empty a home – and what others are willing to buy!
  2. Know when to call in the Pros and pay for their expertise. When the basement tiles and adhesive tested positive for asbestos the “country club” ways of my husband kicked in. We hired a firm, bonded and licensed to address the mess. An email requesting me to mail a key said “part of my fee is to make this as easy for you as possible”. To which I simply wrote, “thank you”;
  3. Donate to charity. Yes, I'd be happy to take a tax deduction for 2014 on the TPP I inherited. Pack it, load it and drop it off, or call for a pick-up. Either way, get a receipt for the CPA; and
  4. Give it away. Save your time and the earth, list it for free. I spent very little time hauling items out of the basement, set them outside the garage and listed them (with photos) on social media. People love something for free, and wow did things relocate.
Rehoming the TPP is now complete.  The Mary and Baby Jesus planter now resides in the sunroom of the neighbors who cared so much, and I am ready to move on to the next phase in this life cycle event.