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Like most people, I use a variety of e-mail accounts. Ideally, one is reserved just for friends. Another is strictly for financial accounts. A couple are general purpose accounts whose address I'll use when I have to provide an e-mail address, and I don't care if it gets trashed by spammers and hackers. That's the theory. In practice, however, overlaps happen, especially as an account ages. Periodically, I'll go into it and, by cleaning out every file I can, bring my usage back down to 1% of my allowed file space. But there are always some e-mails I've sent or received that I want to keep, so I archive them in a “Saved Messages” file. Most of those saved messages are business transactions: e.g., user ID's and password for software I've bought or accounts I've set up. But some of the saved messages are notes to family or friends that were more than just daily chitchat. They are a record of what I was thinking or feeling on that day and are just as much a diary as more traditional forms. One such e-mail is from two summers ago when my Mom died.

If you know Pat Conroy's book, “Beach Music”, then you know my Mom. So when my sister called that June saying my Mom had gone into the hospital, I did what he did: I laughed. “What is it this time?” I asked. “Complaints of chest pains”, she said. “I'll keep you posted.” Test results were available in a couple of days and were inconclusive. For her being both a former registered nurse from WWII days and a hypochondriac with very superior medical insurance from the way my Dad had set up the estate before his death, my Mom was on top of whatever medical problems she might have, real or imagined. So I wasn't much worried. She was aging, but she was still driving and cantankerous as ever. She was 600 miles away and zooming down there on a false alarm would only encourage her periodic theatrics. She was tough enough to outlive all of us, especially since the doctors were puzzled.

But this time her complaints had enough basis in fact that she was still being held in the hospital, but no one could say why. Colon cancer was suspected, but that seemed unlikely. She'd had a complete exam the prior year. A few more day pass and exploratory surgery discovers advanced pancreatic cancer. So I packed and headed down, and she died the evening I arrived with her children and grandchildren at her bedside. The funeral was an event she would have really enjoyed, and we buried her next to my Dad. Then came the task of meeting with the lawyer about the will and cleaning out her condo while we were still gathered together. In turn, we each selected things that had sentimental value to us, and the rest went to Goodwill. Then we each returned to our homes. A death of a parent isn't something one stops thinking about, and when I'm thinking about something, I write. So I sent my sister the following e-mail:

Winning the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes, But Losing Life


You said Susie had stacks and stacks of Mom's stuff still in her living room. I'll have to admit to the same, for simply unloading the car when I got home onto my front room floor, and then deciding it was easier to walk around it than deal with it. But this afternoon, with temps still lingering near 100 from the heat wave, I began to deal with it, and the items triggered memories, of course, plus this realization. When Mom's subscription to me of "This Old House" magazine finally expires, there won't be coming in the mail a notice from Publisher's Clearing House that it has been renewed.

It's a good magazine, just not my style, nor hers even, and I tried to tell her that gently, saying she should spend the money on herself. But it was something she would buy every year in order to give me a gift and something whose buying she hoped would enhance her chances of winning the sweepstakes. But what would she have done with all those millions she was so unlikely to win that she couldn't have done with the money she already had? How many more trips to the South or Europe would she have taken? How much more of anything would she have bought? That's sad.

She died leaving an estate whose size surprised all of us, but failed to gain much benefit from it. As you say, a mere $10,000 would have turned her condo into a place with charm where she could have entertained a few friends graciously or simply surrounded herself with tasteful comfort. With only a few dollars she could have bought herself paints and brushes and created watercolors, as Donna is doing, or gone back to doing oils as she once did, or bought a condo-sized musical instrument and expressed herself that way. Or used a taxi to get herself to evening classes at the college instead of not taking them any more because she didn't like driving at night.

She had enough money to do most of what any person of education and culture would want for themselves. Instead she chased the illusion becoming wealthy though winning a sweepstakes. She was already wealthy and failed realize it. That's sad.


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When Life Gives You Lemons
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