Another thing that we laugh about fairly regularly is an event at our kitchen table that straddled both our childhood and adult worlds. A seemingly small event in our time together that could have been rough on us as siblings, and as a family in general.
Mom and dad died in successive months not quite a decade after that photo next to the Plymouth was taken in all of our patriotic polyester glory. One was expected. One was sudden. Both were life-shaking. We sat down at the kitchen table a decade after they passed to come to terms with selling our home place and divvying up the things that had made up our lives. We were 34, 32 and 28.
We had lived as three brothers in our family home without our parents. We each finished high school and made our way into the world. One of the two younger stayed in the house until the moment we were ready to sell. We found that selling the home was fairly easily decided. We all had families and were moving about the country in careers. The simple division by three of the proceeds from the home was easy. We each received an equal third.
The difficult aspect came with the stuff of our lives. How do you get equal thirds from stuff? How do you divide Dad’s homemade grandfather clock in three? What do you do with fine china set for 10? How about a family scrapbook? Or Mom’s favorite chair from the living room? Or his guns?
We laugh now because we used a draft process that night that gave us each an opportunity to draw the item that we felt most attached to when it was our turn. We laugh because of the good natured wheeling and dealing that took place before it was done. I still say that had my son not been the only male grandchild at that time, there would have been other interest in that bedroom set and I could have had more leverage. Both brothers still smile knowing that I was forced into using an upper tier pick to ensure that I got it.
We laugh and we poke fun about this and many other things at Thanksgiving. It is good for us to relive happy times. For us, the stuff did not seem to matter in the end. Yet, I see it over and again in this profession; hard feelings, possessiveness, selfishness and hurt all happen because of the stuff in our lives. Family disintegration is usually not far behind when these things creep in.
Here a few things easily written and harder practiced yet well worth the consideration:
• Communicate ahead of time
o Do not surprise your family. Talk about your wishes and intentions for giving your stuff to the next generation
o Remember it is Mom and Dad’s stuff. Theirs to decide about certain things.
o Work together with each other. Likely there will be a selfish one and then one that gives in because he or she can not tolerate strife. Do not dishonor your parents or yourselves by being petty.
• Have an updated will. Be as specific as you as you can, for the right reasons. If you want things to go to charity, be specific.
• Prepare a letter of last instruction. While not a substitute for a will this carries funeral instructions, lists of accounts, safe deposit box directions, usernames and passwords.
• Make copies of important photos for each person.
• Give things away while you are still here. Enjoy the blessings of giving and seeing the receiver light up with joy at your gift.
• Do not let a sibling walk through the home place and mark items on the back laying claim with a Sharpie®. Inventory the gun collection while Dad is still here or together as siblings if he has passed.
• Remember, this is only stuff. Mom and Dad may have liked it, looked good with it, counted it important to them, but it is only stuff. The youngest brother for us favors our Dad in many ways. I am glad that he is in my life and I see Dad in him. That is so much better than looking for Dad in an object that he used to own.
If you have been through tough times with family when stuff is involved, my regards to you and I truly hope for your reconciliation. If you have not, then consider how some kind and well intentioned communication can help before there is ever a problem. And, if you were ever dressed in a red sport coat with plaid trousers in front of an ugly 1970’s era car, do not hold that against your parents. They were trying and you at 10 years of age, probably like me, deserved it.