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Last night I was interrupted suddenly by an evening of long distance calls. Cousins from all over the country were calling to express their anger over a misguided (truly illegal) Last Will and Testament alteration managed by another two cousins from an elderly year old relative on her deathbed, when she didn’t know what was really happening. These two managed a serious manipulation of a will, and literally stole the inheritance of a small but beloved family cabin out of the hands of its intended recipient.
My family is angry and terribly unforgiving in conversation up to now, and filled with righteous indignation at the two cousins who literally managed to steal property out of the hands of another. I know these two cousins now feel the burden of being forever outcast marching toward them down our family beach. They are literally being shunned. I have an instinct that one of these two deep-in-it cousins wants to talk to me. And I suspect she feels the haunting nature of wrong.
I bet that you’re right in thinking that one of your cousins would like to talk to you. (Maybe even both of them would.) Given that she is receiving so much anger from so many people, you could give her a real gift by calling her – and by interacting with her in a different way.
If I were in conversation with such a person, I would most likely begin by listening quietly for a while. And then I might gently suggest to her that it isn’t too late to say, “I’m sorry – I made a mistake.” Nor is it too late to declare that she agrees that the deathbed will is invalid.
There are three good reasons for her to make such a declaration. First, it is the moral thing to do. Your cousin has to live with her actions. And, as tempting as it may be to tell the story to herself and to others that, “this is what grandma wanted,” she must know, deep down, that such a story isn’t true. Will she really be able to enjoy this cherished cabin when she knows how it came into her hands? Will she really be able to enjoy it when she knows the profound hurt that she has caused to her family by taking it?
Second, an apology and a renunciation of the will is likely the only hope of restoring a relationship with the rest of her family, of finding reconciliation with them. And relationship is worth a metric tonne more than property. When the moment comes when we are lying in our own deathbeds, do we want to be able to look back and say, “I loved a lot of people and they loved me”? Or do we want to be able to say, “I owned a cabin”?
Third, Pat, you might remind your cousin that the amended will is not going to withstand a court challenge. That challenge will come. And after it does – and after the judge rules that your late relative was hopelessly incapacitated when she made her will and that it is, therefore, invalid – the opportunity for her to say “I’m sorry,” and to build reconciliation will be vastly harder to find.
Those, Pat, are three suggestions for what you might say. Here’s a final suggestion for what you might do: pray for your cousins and for everyone who has been and is being hurt by this conflict. Whether or not you believe that prayer will help the two of them (for the record, I believe that it will), it will help you. The very act of holding another person in intention, of holding another person in the light, invites us to see ourselves and to see those for whom we are praying with deepened patience and with deepened compassion. It invites us to remember that, as big and as foolish as our mistakes may be, we remain God’s beloved children. It invites us to remember that God is in the reconciliation business, and that God is ready to join us in doing the work of healing.
So, say a quiet prayer, Pat. And then take a deep breath, pick up the phone, and call your cousin.