Updating Our Definition of Family

When we talk about downsizing the home, we always talk about family: Make sure to include your kids and/or parents in the discussion and in the process, be considerate of other family members, and share your family stories. All good suggestions, it seems.

However, when invited to speak about our book, I have often fielded questions from people who do not have children. What could I suggest for them? I gave the question much thought and came to the conclusion that any suggestions I might have really applied to all of us.

Expand your definition of family, of course, is the obvious first step. In addition to nieces and nephews, the list could include a college friend you’ve stayed in touch with, a neighbor of many years, a dear friend’s children, a colleague, even your housekeeper.

As Mother Teresa said: “The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small.”

We all have circles of people in our lives: family circle, friends circle, religious circle, career circle, book club circle. We could all widen our “family” so it includes the people in the other circles. In fact, we could and should weave together these circles to form a stronger, more supportive fabric for our lives.

Here are some specific things you can do.

* Make a list of what you want to leave to whom. If you have your grandmother’s china, for instance, you may want to leave that to a cousin since it belonged to her grandmother as well. You may want leave a favorite painting to a friend who has always admired it. Give a copy of this list of bequests to your lawyer to keep with your will; it may or may not be legal depending of what state you live in, but it’s a good idea to have it with your will anyway. Send a copy to each person mentioned in the list.

* Create a list of email addresses (or a telephone number where there is no email) for the people you would like notified of your death. Give it to a trusted friend and to a relative. We should all do this. As we’ve mentioned, the many circles in our lives are not always connected to each other.

* Designate someone to empty your home. Choose a friend or relative who has a similar sensibility to you, someone who understands what things were important to you and will help see that your list of bequests is followed, someone who knows where you would like the rest of your things donated.

Ultimately, it’s all about connectedness. We can choose to redefine our family to include all the significant people in our lives, the ones related by blood as well as those related by friendship, by shared interests, by appreciation.




One Response

  1. I love this post. I had never heard the quote by Mother Teresa before, but I know that in many cultures the circles of family are drawn much larger than in our own. In Hawaii, the terms “uncle,” “auntie,” and “cousin” are used very liberally and the closeness and sense of family they imply reflect a genuine sense of caring for others. But of course even in cultures where the concept of extended family has less importance, most people do have “family” that is not technically family, as Linda has pointed out. I think these are very helpful suggestions and I hope this post will help some who may feel a bit alone in the world realize that they too are surrounded with people who can fill the important role of family in their lives.

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