We are so wise. So clever. Trusts. Wills. Lists of bequeathments. Discussions on deathbeds. Sometimes, before. I’ve heard that some families with little to share have spent it all in arguments over legal settlements.

So, there’s after. What happens? What makes up for the loss?

Bill and I recently went through the Biltmore. Think of it. All that property. All the ego. The purpose and mission of one of the largest privately owned estates in the country. What leviathan plans were made?

Oh, money. I understand that there is a generational separation, that those who came before us, my parents, were the last to make more than their parents. Today, we will not make more than our parents, statistically, and will not leave our children better off. Yet, we will inherit.

In my own family, my father’s second wife decided we weren’t worth the trouble. Once the funds rolled over to her name, she kept everything, including a Victorian photo album she had promised to me. My brother received his veteran’s flag and that was all.

What do you want?

My first experience with this was after my father’s mother’s funeral. We went back to her trailer. My Aunt Phyllis told us to take whatever we wanted. People were asking for Rubbermaid, a colander, opening drawers and cupboards. My grandma was a QVC shopper in her final years and there was a stack of jewelry. I picked up a bracelet and hastily drove away from Willard with a guilty backward glance.

What do you need to remember?

Although both my parents were dead first, my husband’s parents’ home is the first dismantling of which I’ve been a part. Strangely, I worked with dispositions of trusts recently and, long ago, I worked with mortgages. I know the technical proceedings. But what about the coffee table over which my sister-in-law labored all those summers ago? The secretary in the living room? The lady’s writing desk in the master bedroom? The summer home? What keeps memories and what lets go?

I did not like the zero sum separation from my father. But I don’t know what to do with the potential acquisition of my dear mother-in-law’s things. What items are heirlooms? What will help us remember? Do we need any material things at all?

Today, in preparation for the funeral, I copied pictures for the service. I cried all through the store, framing them. At the register, I was afraid I would see someone I knew and have to explain myself. There’s a group of folks who love to chastize cell phone users for not “living in the moment” because they are taking pictures of every little thing. Let me tell you, today I was grateful for the saved image of every little thing. I did not plan them to be part of the grieving, but I would defend anyone the right to click away, although I did not take them as part of a plan.

We are so smart. So wise. We try to plan ahead. Yet, we are, in the end, unable to plan the steps we walk and the bags we pre-pack when we say goodbye.

So, here are my short-term plans. I don’t have much beyond this.

To my mom: I’m sorry that I didn’t have a chance to talk to you during your final days. It was your time and God knew when to take you. I just didn’t expect to let you go without saying goodbye. I will wear your diamond pendant – I think from your engagement ring to my dad – to the funeral this week, because I believe that you will add your blessing.

To my uncle: I wish I had better used family reunion time in the last several years. I really didn’t want to talk to all my uncles about the trials Bill and I were facing, when we got together. It always seemed that everyone’s kids were doing better, were more successful. It took the combined loss of my mom and you for me to reconnect to my roots. I will walk into this service knowing that someone, somewhere feels disconnected and needs to come home.

To my dear Perfect: Use whatever gentle spirit you have left on earth to guide our next time together as a family. Let us choose wisely what to keep, what to honor, and what to let go. We miss you beyond measure and there really is no way to plan for what comes after, except to go forward.