On Being a Good Ancestor
By Charles LaFond, Senior Director, Island Senior Resources
Fundraiser, potter, and author
On these Islands in this Salish Sea, we delight in summer. Then, all too fast, the holidays arrive with massive meals and demanding social schedules. But in between is gentle fall with the final burst of color. Many changing leaves remind us of the beauty of those final moments before death in which so much will be transformed. Fall hosts the playful season of Halloween, whose candy, costumes, giggles, playful screams, and jack-o-lanterns linger into November as a forerunner of Thanksgiving.
Gardens in late fall have their own strange beauty. Butterflies and birds migrate south. The subject of death is permitted, albeit briefly, from late October until late November. By September, a peek into COSTCO will demonstrate that Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas sparkle in their respective corners like wrestlers waiting, muscles tensed, in the corners of the wrestling ring to see who will win.
I like Halloween for its permission to speak of death as much as I want and its ability to confine the conversation to a few short weeks. Every season is a time for different chores. Remember the Martha Stewart magazines with calendars telling us when to plant this, pull this, wash that, and bake this? Well, I have my own calendar. Each season reminds me to do things in life that need to be done in their time. Christmas reminds me to reach out to friends and support charities I love. Easter reminds me to plant the garden. Summer reminds me to lighten up a bit. Halloween is a season of saying “yes” to endings and reminds me to check my Will (I am too poor to have an “estate plan”) and my Living Will (the latter of which is on the back of the front door in an emergency). Thanksgiving is a season of saying “thank you” to life’s abundance. Halloween and Thanksgiving seem to go together like yin and yang, fullness and endings, bounty and boundaries.
My Will is simple. I want my possessions to go to my family or Senior Thrift when I die. I want my body cremated, placed in one of the moon jars I make in my pottery studio, and then scattered off a ferry in the Salish Sea unless someone needs them for their rose beds. I want some money to go to my family and a big chunk to go to Island Senior Resources and WAIF. I have a Will because I do not want what I have earned all my life to go to the government. I want some of my money to go to help aging seniors, especially now that I am feeling how hard being an aging senior can be at times. At 60, I can see death over that hill in the distance. I want to support WAIF because the dogs in my life showed me what unconditional love is and gave it to me every moment of every day.
One day, you will die. I know. It’s hard to hear.
And here’s something else. We can’t take our money, home equity, savings accounts, or cool stuff with us after death. We must leave them all behind, like the skull we currently use on our neck, to excellent effect. Living forever seems exhausting, so personally, I am not afraid of death, just of dying. But I will leave money to ISR in my Will because it can help others when I no longer need the money. Aging seniors need help and will need it for as long as humans walk this land. All my life, I have used and loved libraries, schools, universities, hospitals, and theatres made possible because our ancestors left money to fund them. It takes tremendous emotional intelligence to purchase and plant a tree that one knows one will never live long enough to benefit from through shade, fruit, or swings.
I plan to remember Island Senior Resources in my Last Will and Testament because as I age, I become less and less fluent in the foreign language of certainty. Halloween is about playfully wondering what is on the “other side.” The opposite of certainty is not doubt. The opposite of certainty is celebration of the mystery.