Nicole Tone
May 05, 2016 9:22 am
iStock / Kenneth Wiedemann

I have a will. I’m 26 years old and I have a plan for what happens to my material possessions if I happen to die in some random accident sooner rather than later. I mean, I have a complete set of first edition Harry Potter books — those need to go to the right home.

But what goes into a will isn’t what I’d really like to leave behind when I go. Material objects aren’t what I wanted when my great-grandmother passed away last year. Old books, handmade dresses, dish sets — they’re great, because they were hers. I want them because I’ve heard the stories about how she loved to entertain, how she made her own dresses, how she was excellent at everything and anything she put her mind to. She was the perfect housewife and the American Dream was her reality, despite having grown up in a Russian slum, despite having been captured by the Nazis — despite it all.

However, the things that I’ll be making room in my house for aren’t what I wanted to inherit. What I wanted to inherit from my great-grandmother was her strength, her strong will (though some might call it stubbornness), her ability to do anything she put her mind to. I want to go to the store one day, buy a paint set and canvas, and create something beautiful in an afternoon. I want to go to a foreign country without knowing the language and become fluent.

I wanted to inherit the way she was a mother. There must be some special secret to how she raised her three children who went off and had families of their own, whose children and grandchildren are all doing amazing things with their lives.

I wanted to inherit the way she cooked, the way she kept her house clean, how she could entertain and keep everything running on schedule. I wanted her ability to move forward, to become someone better, even when the shadows of the past want to reach out and take you.

I want to inherit more time with her.

As a feminist, and as maybe the only feminist in my family, these are still things I hope to pass on. I don’t want to leave a house full of things, but a lifetime of memories and lessons to pass on to daughters, my nieces, my sisters, my cousins, my friends. I want them to find strength from what I’ve gone through and how I’ve overcome it. I want them to know that they will go through hell, but that they will survive it. I want them to know that they can do anything they put their mind to. I want them to understand that, no matter where you came from, the past does not dictate the future.

I want them to know that they will find love, they will find happiness, and they will feel whole.

But you can’t leave experiences or lessons in a will, only material things. You can leave your house to someone, but not the memories that were made in it. You can leave all your worldly possessions to someone, but it won’t replace the time you spent with them. The lessons you taught them. The example you set for them.

As I unpack my great-grandmother’s things, as I make room for pieces of her life in mine, I know that they’ll serve as reminders of who she was. They’ll serve as reminders of the lessons I’ve learned from her. They’ll serve as reminders of the woman I want to be.

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