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Hope – An Oddly-Shaped Christmas Present

By Attorney Katherine S. Breckenridge, Esq.

Published December 20, 2018 – INSIDENOVA / Culpeper Times

Estate Planning : Guardianship and Conservatorship

Who admits to doing this – grabbing a flashlight in the middle-of-the-night in mid-December and, as the rest of the household was asleep, peeking at the tags on the gifts nestled around the Christmas tree? Giving a few a gentle shake? Then, crawling back under the covers with the excitement of the celebration to come, and at the same time feeling like a master sleuth?

I am hoping my parents don’t read this article. Well, being parents they probably already knew and that is why presents went from the hiding place in Mom’s closet (yes, I peeked there, too), to being timely wrapped and placed under the tree.

On Christmas Eve, Dad always wrapped the surprises he had purchased, giving this sleuth one more night of adventure. The tricky part of going undercover on that night was the timing for this @ ten-year-old and younger siblings; there was a magic moment between Dad placing under the tree the gifts he had wrapped, and making sure we little ones were asleep before Santa’s arrival.

Even with all of the flashlight escapades, the anticipation of Christmas morn made roosters out of us children, as we awakened the household way before dawn. There were festivities to be had!

In my adult years, the concept of presents has taken on such a different meaning. Recently, during my middle-of-the-night musings over a contested court matter, my mind kept turning to the often used word “present,” and its variations.

A long time ago from a realm not of our own, angels were pre-sent to announce Christ’s coming. “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shall call His name Jesus . . .” (Matthew 1:21 KJV) We know the celebration of such a Present as Christmas, perhaps often thought of as an event that occurred in a foreign land.

Though there is truth in that – of a humble arrival that begged a birth announcement by a multitude of angels, His presence is very present in the here and now. And, not just in the weeks between Thanksgiving and December 25th, but the hours, days, and weeks from the welcoming of a new year to even the Eve of All Hallows.

The giving of a present or gift is often seen as a love language. I claim that one! The act of giving a gift is one of my favorite things to do, especially the sharing of a Christmas ornament.

Perhaps the giving of a present does not always come in a neat little package tied with a bow. It may just be a love language that transcends tangible personal property, and lends more to the stability of the receiver’s quality of life.

Picture adult children who were blessed to be raised in a loving home. One in which the mom was able to be involved in their special interests, promoted and encouraged their achievements, taught them social graces, and set in place strong boundaries. The children who learned that family comes first, and as they began their own families the roots of their birth family were strengthened instead of weakened. The gifts that the mom had given over many years were celebrated and apparent in the bond of friendship and support that exists between the siblings and their families.

The image has turned within recent years, and mom no longer thinks her children are her world, in fact mom thinks her children are conspiring against her. The children who now take mom grocery shopping and out for meals, clean her house when she lets them in the door, beg for her to see a physician – they are often mere strangers in the mind of mom.

The love that their mom exhibited over many years and the comfort found in just being in each other’s presence has allowed these adult children to stand in unison as they find courage and resolve to give back to their mom.

There is no power of attorney in place, and mom does not have the capacity to give agency. In order to help mom – place her in a safe environment, make sure her medical and nutritional needs are met, and to enhance her quality of life, these same children risk the stability of their own family by investing time and money to seek the legal solutions of guardianship and conservatorship.

An outsider might callously say, “Well, children should take care of their parents.” That may be true; however, it is very hard when the parent does not want such care, and actually almost violently resists it. I venture to say that the actions taken by the children are an incredible Christmas gift. It does not come with a neat little bow, but the hearts behind it are adorned with grace and hope.

Though the timing may be accompanied with grief and mourning irrespective of the time of year, think of a spouse who, having lost her husband a mere two months ago, approaches Christmas alone for the first time in almost fifty years. How does one cope when facing such a challenge?

Sometimes, adult children will come alongside a grieving parent and encourage them in a personal approach, by saying, “Have grace with yourself. Allow yourself to grieve in your own timeframe. Remember to eat. And, take each moment or day one at a time.” These adult children recognize the importance of not letting mom disappear. Saying, “I see you . . . you matter . . . I am right here alongside you,” occurs in so many ways, and is extremely important.

Often, the adult children will help get mom to my office, so that the estate matters of the decedent can be addressed. Whether it is ushering mom to my door or waiting with coffee upon completion, that care and love is an incredible gift given to a hurting parent.

Think of the grandson who lived with his grandfather because there simply was no other safe or feasible option. The grandfather – the one who taught his grandson how to play baseball, how to defend himself against bullies, who made him pancakes on Saturdays, and who made sure he attended school, simply succumbed to the ravages of his illness.

Though the grandson grieves and will dearly miss his grandfather, not only did his grandfather leave a legacy of a life well-lived, the grandfather put in place an estate planning document, called a revocable trust, that provides for the continuance of a home and provisions for his grandson – an unshakeable foundation from which this young man can grow.

Could there be a better gift? The ripple effects of incredible love, planning, and provision that this grandfather afforded this young man, the grandson, have the potential to affect the grandson, his family, his neighbors, his school, and our community over years to come.

In the midst of the holiday season where there are lights adorning trees, church bells playing Christmas hymns, and downtown is beautifully decorated in celebration of this treasured time of year, there are so many in our community who face life-altering events that go unnoticed.

To those who may be moved to help, please be extra sensitive to the young and the old who may be struggling. A kind word may be the very best gift they receive that day.

To those who are struggling, I pray for you the gift of Hope – an eternal present. Lyrics to Mercy Me’s song, “If Ever,” perfectly reflect that prayer. “I know You’re able and I know You can, save through the fire with Your mighty hand, but even if You don’t, my hope is You alone.”