I recently put a very large smile on my 61-year-old sister-in-law's face when I called her and told her that her brother had left her $100,000. She has a beautiful complexion already, with only a few crow's feet suggesting a lifetime under the Southern California sun. When we went to the bank branch to sign the paperwork so she could receive her check, I knew she was sad, as part of her own grief, yet there was a certain rosiness to her cheeks as the manager walked over with her money.
We got together again a few weeks later. By then, her mortgage had been paid off, she had signed a contract to have her garden re-done, and had invested the balance in a safe haven (School of Paris 1910 oils and watercolor, appreciating well). She looked a bit different - almost as if she had been on vacation. The wrinkles around her eyes had disappeared; she was relaxed. She was out of whatever debt she had.
As we age, people die. If we are lucky, the people we love have lived virtuous Calvinist lives and die with money in the bank. If we loved them enough - with our whole hearts, unreservedly, not minding the penny-pinching practices of their lifetimes - they often surprise us with legacies. As the executor of an estate responsible for disbursing its portions to legatees, I've given several people the opportunity to smile broadly. I have yet to give away a small "fuck you"-level fortune (and hope never to), yet the telephone calls I make never cease to surprise, if not silence, the people at the other end of the line. It makes them happy; it removes wrinkles.
I'm not only the executor of this estate, I'm also a beneficiary. My home - our home - also has a retired mortgage. The front yard is scheduled for a water-saving landscaping. I've been able to take early retirement. I feel like a 27-year-old, even though my body often contradicts me. Nevertheless, the sum total of my life experiences - and most term that "getting older" - has given me a certain degree of peace. Money will never replace my loss, nor will it mitigate my grief. What it has done, however, is give this older man less to fret over. I derive contentedness from knowing that one day it will be my trust administrator's turn to brighten the days of others. The young do not have the perspective of my years, and as I age and prepare to join with those who have Gone Before, I have come to understand the tranquility brought by a diversified portfolio.