April 18, 2011 by Leah
I cried at the post office last week. I was there by chance, on a day no “Mad Men” discs were due, so when I saw a letter from my dad, I was curious. It turns out, he received a completely unexpected modest inheritance from a favorite uncle and, after taking out some funds for a memorial at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (a favorite family destination), he passed the bulk of the money on to me.
This is the second time I’ve received some money from an inheritance. The first time my mother passed on some money from a beloved grandfather, earmarked to help me get through graduate school without completely financing myself with debt. Both times, the money was a surprise and a bit of an emotional trigger. It’s not like how it is in the movies, at least not in my family. There’s no bickering. None of this money was even supposed to come to me. My parents, who love me, seem to just figure that the grandfather and great-uncle in question loved me and would have wanted me to benefit from their legacies. As my dad said, the parental generation doesn’t really have a need to pad their checking accounts and the money means a lot more to the younger generation (that would be Aaron and me).
This sort of display of unconditional love has been known to send me into a tailspin of feeling unworthy. Of feeling like, if my grandpa and great-uncle really knew the kind of person I was, or some of the horrible things I’ve done, they would never have wanted to be associated with me, let alone leave me anything. Of wishing I’d had more time with these great men – and everyone else I know who has died.
Eventually, after an unseemly display of emotion in the post office and some pep talking from relatives and friends, I remember that death is a part of life and that “conditional love is an oxymoron” (thanks, Dad), and I pull myself together. At which point I’m left with a few thousand dollars.
My first thought was to put the money in trust for my own as-yet-nonexistent children. (This was during the “I’m so unworthy” phase.) Then I decided that was silly and I would pay off my highest-interest student loan or two. Aaron reminded me that all the loans are now “our” loans, and that our plan was to get something like $20,000 in an emergency savings fund before we started seriously paying down loans. He also mentioned that, depending on the circumstances of our next move, we might soon be in the position of wanting to buy a house, in which case we might want to use our savings for a down payment. (I realize the financial planners would rather have us have the emergency savings fund and then a separate down-payment savings fund, but I’m pretty sure that’s completely impossible on one income less student loan payments.)
None of these options really sounded “right” to me. Somehow (and it didn’t take much convincing), I convinced Aaron that we should use the money for the trip to Europe we’re already planning. We weren’t planning to rack up credit card debt (which has heretofore been how I’ve financed personal international travel), but we now have a little more freedom to stay longer, to explore. To have more than one or two nice meals out. To fund a dog-sitter for three weeks. To see all the people we want to see and to actually enjoy the experience. I think I might be looking forward to it, finally.