When my mother-in-law suddenly passed away this April, I helped plan a funeral for the first time in my life. With death comes a sudden realization of our own mortality. Sitting in a small funeral parlor, making decisions on caskets, thumbprints (yes, the question was asked if we wanted her thumbprint) and flower colors, we all collectively, silently pondered just how much we really knew about this woman.
And then something strange starts happening at a funeral planning. Family starts talking. They intuitively start remembering, reminiscing and smiling about good times.
In life, we seem to dwell on the “must haves”- the “things” that are supposed to make life better, more memorable for our kids. Maybe it’s the nice house, the pool, the new car with a pop down video screen. Material possessions become an obsession. As parents, we want to leave a legacy of providing, and the only way to show that is by accumulating stuff. Our kids will know our love for them by the endless supply of cool things we are able to work our butts off to provide, right?
Yet here we sat- three siblings with their spouses, mourning the loss of their mom/mother-in-law, and the discussion wasn’t about her providing anything material (even though she had). The discussion was about traditions. Traditions she created, that made every single person there seem special and loved. Traditions that were a common bond that comforted us in her death. The annual Christmas cookie bake, the collection of snow globes, the fishing trips on the lake, the homemade blankets and school pictures hanging on the wall.
Parents- if you really want to “provide” for your children, forgo the endless supply of the newest, latest whatevers. And instead, decide early on a handful of traditions you will religiously keep with your children. In fact, I ought to heed my own advice, and add this as a goal in my post “What’s Your Parenting End? ”. It matters very little what those traditions are, just as long as you begin them early, and keep them. Because those traditions provide the glue that will bind your family together, even when everything else seems to be tearing it apart. And believe me, there will be times when everything else seems to be tearing your family apart! A great article on traditions can be found here.
So now that I dispensed this advice for the world, it’s time to consider what traditions I have created for my family. Two come to mind right away: snow ice cream and the skunk in the trunk game (both traditions passed down to me by my own mother). My kids are 18, 16 and 12, and yet they still expect snow ice cream when the white stuff accumulates outside, and they still announce “there’s a skunk in the trunk, I want it” every time that stinky smell is in the air and we happen to be in the car.
Oh sure, we have others- Thanksgiving at our house, “ickabobbing” (that’s our made up word for snuggling), Toothbrushes for Christmas (how ’bout that time I forgot about this one?- Santa was added to the naughty list on Christmas morning). Still, it’s the little traditions, the goofy traditions, that give a family a unique identity, a common sense of belonging, something to hang on to when material possessions are lost, get old or never materialize in the first place. And if my time on earth ends too soon (isn’t anytime too soon?), I hope my kids remember snow ice cream and skunk in the trunk, because won’t those stories bring a smile to a room full of sullen faces picking out caskets? I mean urns….definitely urns.