The Last Gift a Parent Can Leave a Family: Peace of Mind

The losses of some loved ones are sudden; these bring sorrows and challenges of their own particular kind, and my prayers are with any of you who have gone through an unexpected death in your family.

All too often, however, we lose our parents at the end of long illnesses. This article is geared to families dealing with this sad and unfortunate scenario. That said, we’re hopeful that anyone in the Covenant community, whether or not you’re grappling with an aging and ill loved one, can glean useful information from my experience.

My mother, Jo Anne Christian, passed away last November. She was diagnosed in early August and gone a scant four months later.Jo Anne Christian and family2

Mom did so much right. She was in complete control of her treatment (or lack thereof—she declined chemotherapy when told that she could not be cured of the lung cancer that would eventually take her life); she stayed as active as possible until the very end; and she spent her final days telling people she loved goodbye in a dignified, memorable, happy way. This has proved to be of enormous comfort to my siblings and me, because we know that, while she did not want to exit stage left quite this soon, she did so with an abundance of faith in God and on her own terms.

However, there are some things I fervently wish we’d had time to do before Mom died. I wish we had all gathered with her in her home and walked through the house, hearing stories, understanding why she kept this knickknack or that book, and working together to joyously divide the treasured heirlooms with her help, not sadly and in the midst of grief after she was gone.

I wish she’d had time to write notes to each of us and to capture family lore that our children and we need to know. So much was stored in her very bright mind, and we’re now left without our encyclopedia.

On a more practical note, I wish she’d had a large three-ring binder with everything—insurance, wills, house information, etc.—all in one place.

Finally, I wish that she had named a neutral third party as the executor of her estate. Instead, one of my siblings and I are handling this very challenging task. Yes, complicated, even with a modern will, a trust, and everything else one is told to put in place. It’s awfully hard to muscle through the necessary steps of executing an estate when you are grieving a parent.

So here are some ideas for gifts you can leave your family, with the biggest bonus being the peace of mind that comes from knowing your wishes are being handled as you would have hoped:

  1. Talk to your children about your faith. Make sure they know that you believe in God and in the resurrection of Jesus. This is the most amazing comfort you can impart.
  2. Describe the type of funeral you want in detail and put as much of it in place or in writing as you can. Many people write their own obituaries—my father did, and it was enormously helpful.
  3. Make a notebook with your important papers. This should include passwords for all online accounts as well.
  4. Make a video or write letters to each of your loved ones and tell them the family stories they need to know after you’re gone.
  5. Be very specific about who you want to have which heirloom. Consider doing this as part of a family gathering. Try to make this a celebration of a lifetime of collecting things that mean something to you.
  6. Consider revisiting the subject of who your executor will be. Prayerfully think through whether you want to leave this job to one of your children or whether it would make more sense to ask a trust company or attorney to handle it for your estate. Whatever you decide, meet with the prospective executor and the other beneficiaries while you can still talk through your wishes.

For more information about Covenant Presbyterian Foundation, please visit covenant.org/foundation/ or contact Duane Dube or any Trustee: Elizabeth Christian, Everard Davenport, Dianne Erlewine, Larry Faulkner, Helene Maham, JoAnne McIntosh, and Megan Poore.

Covenant Presbyterian Foundation supports Covenant Presbyterian Church by assisting donors to be Faithful to Generations, during and beyond their own lives, by receiving and growing their gifts, and using them to help fulfill the donors’ glorification of God.