Memorial Day weekend means many things to me. It's a chance to remember and honor men and women who gave their lives to protect our freedoms. It's a chance to gather with family. It's the unofficial start of summer and winding down of the school year. It's also the weekend when many towns plan their most popular local events.
My childhood hometown holds an Italian street painting festival where artists create surreal images on the grounds of a 300 year old Spanish Mission. I love coming home to visit my parents, wandering the intricate paths between images with my mom (our family creative) as the artists work.
These artists, by virtue of their necessarily public workplace, make themselves accessible to their audience - conversations with the artists, while brief, often provide highlights.
I recognized one artist bringing to life an image of a dancer in a traditional hand-embroidered Oaxacan dress (last summer we took a family trip to Oaxaca to see the Guelaguetza, a dance performance where groups in traditional attire represent their villages by making offerings to the gods for a good harvest).
The artist explained she was rendering her mother in a splendid traditional Tehuana outfit. Her mother had always dreamed of donning such a costume, but they are costly and her family came from humble means. The artist was going to help her mother realize a dream. She would share the image with her mother who remained in her birth village of Tehuantepec, Mexico.
Another artist explained why she loved participating in this event: the art was transitory, here to be enjoyed for a few days until rain and wind swept it away. It captured the essence of living for her - the need to enjoy today what will be gone tomorrow.
Enjoying beauty (and life) as fleeting. Honoring family dreams. It all made sense, and in an "Aha!" moment I saw it fit neatly into the greater narrative of financial literacy as a tool to enable intentional living and spending.
I share my enthusiasm with readers of this blog. Every once in a while, I am unable to resist the temptation to impose small aspects of it on my family.
My father and my mother will celebrate 50 years of marriage this summer, and (there's no delicate way to put this) my most valuable anniversary gift to them will be ensuring that the untimely demise of one of them does not screw the surviving spouse.
As if our chat with the artist were designed to prompt just this reflection, we returned to my parents' house after the festival where I went over the "In Case Of Emergency Binder" I'd purchased for my father to complete.
This is a product created by Chelsea over at Smart Money Mamas (formerly Mama Fish Saves). I make no commission if you buy it for yourself or a loved one. Regardless of whether you buy it, please ensure you have a reliable way of transmitting the information it contains to whomever would pick up the pieces if a catastrophic event knocked the finance person in your world out of commission.
My dad is a sweet guy, but he can occasionally get lazy and dump things onto his kids that he doesn't care to deal with himself. For example, he's made it clear that the extensive clutter that began in his garage (and quickly metastasized to closets, floors and sofa space in many rooms of the house) is a problem he plans to dump on me and my siblings. I'm not thrilled about this, but I've learned to accept it.
How do I hope to motivate him to complete the ICE Binder? It turns out that while he's willing to dump some work on his kids, he would do anything to protect my mom. I did not shy away from sharing the statistics with him: that by and large wives outlive husbands, and that his willingness to run the household finances unfortunately meant that she would not easily be able to take over his role.
I've explained to him that failing to complete the ICE Binder means a fivefold increase in work by her on the back end, when she'll be overwhelmed with grief and other concerns. If he can't be bothered to take a half hour to fill in a page of information about a rental property, it will take her at least 2.5 hours to locate the same information. He seemed to get it.
During our talk this weekend, I also explained that details he is convinced he's told me about (where the safe deposit box key is located; where he has his bank accounts and his will) remain complete mysteries to me despite his insistence to the contrary. If he can't get this information into the ICE Binder, my mom (not his forgetful son) will be the victim of his failure to plan.
My dad is a fundamentally good (often outright great) guy, and I'll be forever indebted to the wonderful head start he and my mom gave me and my siblings in life. This weekend I tried to underscore that sustaining his excellent reputation means ensuring my mom knows he will continue to look after her once he's gone. We all hope that won't be for a long time to come.
No one wants to think about it, but the truth is, someday we'll all be widows and orphans. Framing our duty as a way of paying our love forward to those we leave behind is one way of rousing us to action.
This will post after Memorial Day. If you did not do so during your BBQ, take a moment to be grateful for those veterans who lost their lives to protect you and those you love.
If you can muster a little extra reflection time, think about how you'd like your partner, family or kin to remember you - as someone who continues their legacy of love by ensuring that the caring and concern you expressed in life continues long after you make your exit.