Now that I am finally sitting down to write this (thanks, insomnia, and life with small children!), it’s technically two days past the four-week anniversary of my dad’s death. Still, i wanted to write something here because I wanted you all to think about some things that might matter in the event of your own death.
When I was a freshman in college, email was just starting to be a “thing.” It was 1993, and my college email address was the first one I ever had; my password for that account is still the one I use for my more important online accounts, because it is something that would have made sense only to my 18-year-old self and not some combination of my children’s or pets’ names and birth dates or something. The wonderful thing about this, and about my dad, is that this meant my dad occasionally sent me actual, handwritten letters. I still have them, in a special box, mixed with concert ticket stubs and meaningful letters and whatnot, down in my basement at home. It’s been a while since I last read them (and I can’t access them right now because I’m several states away), but I still vividly remember them. They were always on lined, legal-pad paper in his precise, angular handwriting. They never said anything particularly profound. It’s not like we didn’t regularly speak on the telephone. Instead, he’d talk about the day-to-day things: the trials and tribulations of mowing one’s own lawn in the Florida heat, a joke someone told him that he thought I’d enjoy, the restaurant he and my mom had tried, some junior high school acquaintance of mine that he’d run into at Sam’s Club. I presume he sent them because he missed me, because he knew I missed my parents and he wanted me to receive mail every now and again, and because he found himself sitting in an airport or at a board meeting where he was only peripherally needed and he knew a letter from him would make me smile.
I’m sure by now you’re wondering why I’m telling you all this, and I promise, the point is forthcoming.
Besides the fact that he was the kind of man who sent 3-page handwritten letters about nothing to his daughter at college, my dad was the sort of man who planned ahead. He handled things. He had a financial planner and he had a will and he kept records neatly filed in labeled folders. He still kept a handwritten check registry, despite also embracing online banking. In that check registry, there’s a payment listed for a safety deposit box.
When my mom told me about this safety deposit box, she said, “A safety deposit box! I didn’t know we had a safety deposit box. What on earth could be in there??” My parents didn’t have the type of relationship that involved hiding secret safety deposit boxes from one another, so this was truly mystifying.
A few phone calls to the two banks my parents used, and one incredibly nice telephone representative on the telephone later, we located the safety deposit box (although we still haven’t seen hide nor hair of the key). It turns out that the box is actually registered in my mom’s name, not my dad’s, and she just forgot about it. They opened it years ago, and she’s pretty sure it’s empty because they used it to store valuables during their brief move to Turkey several years ago. We’ll eventually go to the bank with the death certificate and have them open the box up for us, but now, even four weeks later, that feels like a chore we would much prefer to defer until later.
I tell you all of this, though, because when I first heard there was a safety deposit box my mom didn’t think she knew about, I started imagining what could be in there. My husband and I have one, and it contains stuff like the titles to our cars, the birth certificates of our children, and we intend to use it to safely store jewelry or whatever else if we plan an extended vacation to an exotic locale. It contains sensible things. The things the internet tells us should be in a safety deposit box.
What I wish was in my parents’ safety deposit box, though…well, I wish it had letters in it. We are the rare, fortunate kind of family that regularly expresses our love for each other, so it’s not like I need to see a handwritten letter from my dad in a safety deposit box to know he loved me. But I still would give my left arm to receive just one more letter from my dad.
This brings me to your mission. What I want to do is start writing annual letters to my loved ones and begin accumulating them in that safety deposit box my husband and I have. Maybe I’ll write them on everyone’s birthdays. More probably, I’ll write them less frequently, but I’m telling the Internet here and now that my own safety deposit box will slowly start to fill up with letters to my family. I think you all should do the same for your families, too. I don’t care if you write about mowing the damn lawn – your family members will love to see your handwriting addressing them one more time.