Legacy – hmm – another theme that I found challenging to think through and set before you. Yes, this is the exceedingly late monthly international challenge, Tell Us About… set up by Gail from Is This Mutton. I think it was a genius idea, Gail, as wow, does it make you think!
I say late as the others (see at the end for the lovely women who also posted on legacy) completed this about 10 days ago, but what with my recent holiday I couldn’t get it to you.
So, why not take a break from it and not do it at all? Well, I decided to take quite an acerbic view of the word, as I wanted to tell you a cautionary tale of how one really should never try to influence people from the grave with your legacy and, especially, never impact your children as you leave this planet. This is a story of what legacy should not be. Note I really, really wondered whether I should post this. Am I over-sharing for starters? Is it too negative? But, I’ve decided I will post!!! Because this is legacy from my point of view.
So, taking the line that legacy is about wills, my father left an extraordinary will, which would have impacted me and my sister throughout the rest of our lives. I won’t go too far into the details, but he did not want his two son-in-laws to get their hands on either his money and eventually, my mother’s. Consequently, with my mother having what is known as a mirror will, he gave instructions that all their assets, financial or otherwise, should be tied up in two trusts and kept well away from both us and his sons-in-law.
This, btw, wasn’t to avoid tax, in fact, the way my father wanted the money to be tied up was very tax inefficient.
However, on the death of my father, and advice from a wonderful solicitor, the two wills were changed, and we spent the next three years caring for our mother and eventually, as one would expect, we inherited our legacy, which was the usual modest amount you’d expect two people to leave their children plus some shares that my mother had inherited from her parents.
We were so lucky to have this solicitor who believed that if the recipients of legacies wanted to save the money left to them, fine, and if they wanted to spend it all, that was also fine, as it was their decision, totally. He believed whole-heartedly that no-one should attempt to influence or control people, especially their children, from the grave.
This was so important as little did anyone realise, least of all my father, that three years after our mother’s death my sister would die. But thanks to this good solicitor, my sister had three wonderful years spending the money left to her. You see, up to the legacy she received, she was really poor, as in really, really poor. So, she bought her house from the local council, paid off her debts and redid her kitchen. And joy of joys she went to America on Concorde to visit her best friend, every year! She had a wonderful time. And then she died. From cancer. I mean, I was devastated when that happened, but I knew she’d been very happy during the years after my parent’s deaths, as for the first time for a long time, she didn’t have to deal with her grinding poverty.
Well, there you are, a cautionary tale of a controlling father. It’s a long story as to why he was like that, and, readers, he wasn’t a monster, not at all, but, he did things in his own particular way and, you know, ….families. And if I learnt anything, it is I do not want to leave any legacy that makes demands on anyone.
Now taking that a step further, and this, I think, you can call my legacy, it is my greatest wish is to make the least fuss and bother for my children as I get really, really old. In fact, I am going to say this, I think it is selfish of older people if they don’t make decisions about their older age leaving it all to their children, who usually are still working and have many responsibilities.
Sigh. I speak from bitter experience here.
My mother, it wasn’t her fault, but she was not an independent woman. Once my father had died, she had no idea, for instance, how to pay bills, or how to get out of the house without someone taking her, let alone shop for food. Astonishing really, as she was the same age as I am now. She could do the housework, though and cook, but get out of the house on her own, no. From a distance (she lived in Suffolk, I lived in Sussex, and it was a 3-hour drive or catching three connecting trains) I set up a carer; supposedly a cleaner, but she came in every day and checked on my mother, did her shopping, and took her out for the occasional outing. She was a treasure. And for 18 months me and my family came up to Suffolk every other weekend, eventually leaving my two young teenagers to fend for themselves at home. I look back now and feel such awful guilt as I know I neglected my teenagers with all our absences over the weekends.
Anyway, it worked for a while and then she fell down the stairs. And the neighbour who had spent several hours in A&E with my mother, said to me, in quite the accusatory tone, ‘and what are you going to do with your mother?’ As if I hadn’t had sleepless nights over this! Well, that was the end of her living in her beloved house. We brought her to live nearer to us in a flat in an apartment block for the over-60s, which had extra help (not like the place I live in). It also had a restaurant and loads of stuff going on. And did she thrive there and become part of the community? No, she hated it, as she had expected that I would see her every day. Furthermore, she hated that she wasn’t in her house with all her possessions and furniture around her, and she became depressed, severely depressed.
She managed to live another two years and then departed this life never adapting to living without her husband beside her. And all the while, I have to say this, expecting her daughters (I had a sister who helped but I was the decision-maker) to rally round and do everything for her. But people, all the while I was doing this I was commuting from Brighton to London, working full-time on a prestigious national project, with a husband and two teenagers, and continually having to make decisions about her care, selling her house, packing up her possessions and selling most of her furniture, visiting her every other weekend and then every weekend once she was nearer to us, and all the while meeting her resentment that I wasn’t constantly by her side. It made me ill and it took me years to get over this.
So now you know, as in really know, why I moved to a ‘retirement property’ as they are known here in the UK, at what is considered quite a young age of 72. Why? Because, I would never EVER do what my mother did to my children. And so it was that we moved and down-sized – early. I mean most of our friends were beside themselves, ‘why Penny, why do this?’ Well, it was difficult to tell them the bone-deep feeling of I will not ever make any demands on my children as I get older. Also, I had noticed that the people who liked living where my mother did, had lived there a long time. It wasn’t a last minute ‘do or die’ decision for them. Like us, they had said to themselves, where could we live that is conducive to getting older, so like us they had down-sized and enjoyed where they were living for many years.
If I sound as though I’m shouting, or being negative about older age I do apologise, and remember I am being realistic here about older, older age, rather than the active retirement type of age that people are usually experiencing in their 70s and into their 80s.
Actually, someone has written about this choosing to get rid of possessions and down-sizing in a really delightful way. This is Margaret Magnusson who has written two books: Dostadning: The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, which is all about reducing one’s possessions. I’m currently reading her latest book: The Swedish Art of Ageing Well, subtitled, Life wisdom from someone who will (probably) die before you, which I’m finding equally delightful. It is so good to read a book about ageing by someone who is old – there are too many books about ‘ageing well’ written by people who have absolutely no idea what ageing is actually like! I highly recommend both books. And btw, I found the whole process of down-sizing cathartic and actually quite fun.
And now I think I need to get out and away from my desk after that as, wow, Gail, this writing challenge is very thought provoking! But this is what the term legacy means to me. Not leaving the world a better place – if only. Or, for that matter, nor do I have any thoughts about what I have contributed and left for others after I have died, it’s a no to that, because legacy to me is wanting to disappear with the least fuss possible. Let’s see if I can do it!
And now it is time to introduce you to the other members of this Tell Us About It challenge.
Here is the lovely Lesley, who chose the theme, who blogs at Once Upon A Time Happily Ever After. She says one of the most touching things she was told after her Mom died in 08.2022 was that her brother, sister and I were her legacy. My (former) sister-in-law Metra was the sweetheart who imparted those words to her. And they were a comfort. She felt like Mom had gifted them with so much in her 95 years and now it was up to them to carry on for her. A big Job! Click here for her post.
Then there’s Marsha who blogs at Marsha in the Middle. She is sharing the legacy of a truly extraordinary man. His legacy is in the thousands of children and adults who were fortunate enough to have known him. Click here to read this post.
Deb at Deb’s World embraces the quirkiness of life in her response to the question of her legacy, thanks to some helpful technologies. Click on this link to read her post.
Gail at Is This Mutton says, Kathleen Lovis was an ordinary woman who never owned a house or car. She didn’t go abroad until she was 81. Kathleen started working at 14. She was the grandmother of Gail who treasures Kathleen’s legacy of a handwritten memoir and recipe book. Click here for her post.
Sue at Women Living Well After 50, ponders the question ‘What will my legacy be?’ Legacy is one of those subjects she has never really taken time to confront. As she delved to find the answer, she discovered she really does know who she is and embraces and celebrates her unique qualities. Click here for this post.
Suzy at The Grey Brunette explores her aspirations to leave a lasting legacy of creativity, inspiration and empowerment, emphasising the importance of igniting creativity within oneself and others. Click here for her post.
Well, there you are, I probably have overshared and I also hope this post isn’t too negative a take on life for you, but I am a realist, and this is the way I think, However, you will find it interesting to read the different views my lovely fellow contributors have on this theme. Thank you for reading to the end, that really is all for now.
With love, Penny, the Frugalfashionshopper