The Silver Brook Township Cemetery is a sight to behold. To the East, a white pine grove greets the morning sun. To the north, horses roam the same field that in year’s past, a llama or two called home. Over the many years I’ve lived here, I’ve eyeballed this tiny final resting space. Is it where I want to be? Is it worthy? Does it matter? Shall I have Randy, the cemetery’s caretaker, save me a space? Like me, they won’t last forever. Lately, I’m closer to making that call. Turns out it does matter.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t run around thinking about my death. But this pandemic has changed the perspectives of a lot of people, including me. For me, life seems less infinite. The guy with the scythe, * who I’ve generally ignored, could be silently creeping beside me. A few weeks ago, Mr. Reaper took a turn at my neighbor’s door. She didn’t see him coming.
Many of us have had the time or have taken this time to decide what matters. To ask ourselves the hard questions: Have I loved enough? Who will remember me? And how can I make my mark? Clearly, I’m not alone in my thinking.
In 2020, Jennifer Carey, an attorney with Duluth, MN law firm Hanft Fride, saw a greater than 50 percent increase in will creation and charitable giving. “Without a doubt,” says Carey, “the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a renewed and urgent interest in estate planning, including creating, updating and/or finalizing estate planning documents. The mortality of this disease has been a significant motivator for many people to get their affairs in order.”
Years ago, I didn’t give mortality much thought. My only desire at the end of my life was to have my ashes tossed out into a place I love. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, scattering ashes is perfectly legal though the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency suggests scattering them well away from places where people normally swim, fish or picnic. (Check your local regulations before you do this.) But more and more often, I think I want some kind of permanent recognition that I’ve walked the planet, like a headstone, a bench or a tree. Some cemeteries allow for green burials with remains buried in a biodegradable container with a tree. The tree become a living entity nourished by your ashes. This suits me. Still, there’s another option I deeply believe in.
At the Miller-Dwan Foundation, we keep files for each of those people who’ve given us Legacy gifts. It’s not just our responsibility but also our joy to remember those who cared enough to care about the health of their region. Nearly 50 years ago, Sarah M. Young gave a gift in her will that still today, provides physical rehabilitation-related education to the staff who are supported by the Miller-Dwan Foundation. Similarly, social worker Albert Gonska gave a gift in his will that continues to support children who need physical rehabilitation care. Those gifts were carefully stewarded to be long-lasting. But they don’t necessarily reflect the average gift and they don’t mean a gift needs to be large to be remembered.
If I gave a gift to the Miller-Dwan Foundation today, through my will, or maybe I designated the Miller-Dwan Foundation as the as a beneficiary to my retirement plan, I would be remembered, no matter the size of the gift. My name would be placed permanently on the wall in the hospital, or at Solvay Hospice House if I choose, and the foundation would save a permanent file includes information about my gift, my obituary and any other information I’d want the Foundation to have, like an explanation about why I left the gift and what I wanted to do with the gift.
Setting up a gift like this is easy. You don’t have to, but sometimes the key is to let the Miller-Dwan Foundation know you’ve done it. Then they can be certain they have every bit of information you want to share. I love it.
I’ll still probably call Randy, pay for a cemetery space, and maybe arrange for a tree planting. But I can expand my mark by making a legacy gift to the Miller-Dwan Foundation. Then I can buy my cemetery plot knowing that, especially now, I’ve helped plan for and address those health care needs that will impact our friends, family members and loved ones even after I’m gone.
*I like to think of the Grim Reaper as my escort to the afterlife. He only uses his cutting tool to sever my tie to this earth.