ESTATE PLANNING...

A thoughtful mind once discerned
race is the child of racism, not the father
Similarly, I note,
age is the child of aging, not the mother.

For decades now I have visited my independently-dwelling single mother every week. To a sporadic inquisitive stranger  she volunteers this, “My kids love me, but not quite enough to have me in their home”. To anyone asking about her missing husband she’d say, “he died a long time ago”…but she seldom mentions how he left without asking.
…And so I visited her yesterday. Mother is a frail 82 years old, who’s healthy mind oscillates between the intimidating tyranny of her forty-something years and an insecure, vulnerable octogenarian. Determined to be an equal and therefore unrelenting one minute, she is suddenly capitulating, submissive and feeble the very next. While it is an interesting case study intellectually and emotionally to see how a human being goes back to ‘weakness’ after ‘strength’ as the scripture describes aging, her experience comes not without an inherent sense of foreboding, for I find myself in my middle years and recognize that there is but one path heading in that direction.  
Mother spent her energy securing us a future. Ironically, I’ve learnt through our recent interactions that her greatest source of insecurity is the very future that she knows she doesn’t have. To clarify… this isn’t a yearning for a longer life or extra years but a desire and a will to set in motion a world or a vision that she would want to see survive her lifetime. In that future, she would want us all to remain, proceed and act as if she were still in the world watching us and holding us to our boundaries, our trusts and our obligations. This control-freakish human instinct which is certainly not unique to her, is for lack of a better term… so God-like. To that end one of her guilt-delivering missives goes thus, “I don’t know who’s going to care for your (disabled) sister when I’m not here?”
So after the formalities of tea and small talk which she could never be accused of overdoing, she brings out a stack of bank statements for review and discussion. It takes a bit longer for her to make sense of the numbers and transactions this year compared to last year but in the end after much annotation of commentary on sticky notes she digests the current fiscal scenario. Encouraged now, she wants to know what will happen to all this ‘bank stuff’ if she suddenly ‘pops off’ !  In the instant before its asked I already know well that she’s not asking for information or for my opinion but that this is in-effect a test, my test and a review of what she wants should happen. So grinding my mental teeth against this manipulation and the absurdity of her distrust in me, while simultaneously recognizing on some other mental plane her desperate human need to manifest her ‘plan’, I proceed to recount her vision of our future. She asks testing, surgical questions along the way making sure that no modicum of ill-intent or apathy remain in my commitment to the ‘plan’. We deal with the what-if scenarios of various sequences of family deaths and survivorships, until we have explored… nay determined, the correct passage of these funds two generations into the future. She concludes with, “Accha yaad rakhna” or “Remember it well”.
Even as I grow restless she reads my body language and distracts me into the next chapter. She cannot find the keys to this packed suitcase…yes her suitcases are perpetually packed. Its contents, I suspect are our next subject for consideration and settlement. After much searching and trying of random little keys I am finally successful at opening the little lock which was conceived and born in a time before the TSA outlawed baggage locks. So here we are with an unzipped suitcase who contents are three cloth bundles and a manila envelope. Bundle number one is untied to reveal a smaller more securely tied bundle within. The shoelace holding the mouth of this one is released and out comes a zippered pouch, which in turn yields another cloth bag within which is a velvet pouch with golden drawstrings. Five secure layers in the depths of the darkness behind the velvet and gold strings is a few nick-nacks of costume jewelry. Beauty and significance as they say are in the eye of the beholder, and so it probably is that these orphaned pieces of bling have gained prominence in the waning years of her life. Too late to bail out now, I take off my jacket as she begins to tell of the history and future destiny of each of these pieces. She picks up one bracelet and says, “I don’t think this is real, its from your aunt”…ouch a right uppercut to my aunt’s ribs.. She picks up a set of earrings with a matching pendant and surmises, “this can’t be expensive, its from Jameela and she’s cheap like me”… just like that Jameela takes a proverbial left-hook to the face… Next she picks up a piece that looks, feels and glitters like shiny tin and says, “this is from my father, I don’t know who to give it to?”  In this fashion we visit each piece of the buried treasure and I see that as we return them back to their confinement she is more relaxed and contented. Maybe its the visiting of old valuable memories and of interactions gone-by or the assignment of a future to each thing she owns… whatever it may be, she finds relief in our exercise.
The oft-stapled manila envelope is next and the X-ray intuition that any son has of his mother’s intentions warns me that we are next visiting insurance policies and other such weighty documents. One after another she pulls out health insurance policies, hospitalization riders, supplements, medicare statements and the like. Respectfully I decipher each for her, although once again this is really her refresher course for me. We talk through the what-if scenarios of illness and infirmity, we confront at her urging the tough scenarios of disability and long-term care, of nursing homes and medical confinement. This I admire about her…she has no illusions about how hard life can get and there’s not a bone in her body that seeks to evade that discussion. Then again, confrontation has always been her strong suite… the foes have been irrelevant. Tiring, but once assured that all her insurances are indeed necessary and not frivolous or maliciously wasteful, she packs them back in her envelope and returns them to the suitcase.
“One last thing”, she says even before the documents are put away so as to turn off the light at the end of my exit plan. She reaches into the flap of the suitcase and pulls out a small box and shakes it. The box complies with a rattle to which she points and says. “that is the second key to my bank locker”. Lazily, I ask the obvious question, “Where’s the first key?” Pleased, she looks away, smiles and stays pointedly silent. “Wow”, I berate myself…”you stupid, stupid man. You’ve lived on this earth with your mom 50 years and you still walk into all those traps”! So inside the suitcase who’s keys we could not find easily is the second key to a bank locker who’s first key is a secret. Aye Aye captain!
Fortunately we have run the gamut for the day and because she’s 82 she is exhausted…otherwise we’d do this drill for another few hours. As I put on my jacket and prepare to leave, even as my body is starting to feel the relief from all the tension, she lobs the big question. Like most of her questions and the hand grenades of war you see them coming only after they are launched. “Do you know what to do when I die?”, she queries. “Yes”, I tell her as I struggle to put the pin back in the grenade, “I know”. I am buying time…my mouth is buying time for a mind in crisis. Then she answers her own question for me, so that I may know once again, and because there is only one answer. “Don’t get distracted by my funeral and last rites”, she says matter-of-factly, “come here do what paperwork needs to be done and make sure your disabled sister is taken care of emotionally”!
Yes ma’am.
Yes mom.
“It was nice talking. See you later. God willing”
“Yes son, thanks for coming.”
“You don’t come as often as you used to. Next time lets have tea and biscuits.”

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