Ask Dr. Gramma Karen: Hey, Honey, Your Holiday Gift Is a List

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gift box, hands, bow, sweater, wall, blue, silver

“How often do you clean that?” asked my husband Gary. He was referring to the air cooler device that is unique to vent-less clothes dryers, one of which we have in our condo.

“Why,” I asked, “are you wondering how to clean it if I die before you?”

“Well, yes,” he replied, “I know how to clean the lint filter, but I don’t know what to do about that air cooler.”

This exchange triggered a what-if-I-die-first conversation, culminating in our deciding that each of us needed to make a list of our individual household responsibilities and how to fulfill them so that the survivor could carry on after the demise of the other. Granted, this is not a particularly cheery topic, but after 53 years of marriage, and having taken my own advice about making things easier for our family members after Gary and I are both gone, this conversation was easy and comfortable for us.

Statistically, Gary should predecease me by 5 to 10 years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but, of course we all know of cases where this gender prediction didn’t hold up. (If you want a quick explanation on why women live longer than men, I suggest an article posted by the World Economic Forum.)

So, we took a stroll through each room in our condo (there aren’t many!) and with pad and pencil in hand, we each created a list of things we do that the other is not aware of, or simply doesn’t think about.

Karen’s List

Here is my list of items I need to inform Gary about and/or teach him to do:

  • Use our online banking system to pay bills and to know which ones require regular payment, e.g., long-term health care, credit cards, cable, cell phones; also, learn the process for monthly reconciliation.
  • Provide a list of documents required by our accountant to prepare our tax returns. (It also came to light that Gary needed the name of and contact information for our accountant.)
  • Renew and pay our real estate taxes and car insurance and how to pay our quarterly federal taxes.
  • Order and install the water purifier in the refrigerator.
  • Have our hurricane shutters cleaned every two years.
  • Change the batteries in our air conditioning control device every six months.

Gary’s List

Below is Gary’s list of items he needs to inform me about and/or teach me to do. I need to point out that Gary sets up and takes care of all of our computer, printer, and technical needs, as well as all our sports equipment, including my bike and my paddleboard. If I have any problems, I simply mention them and he takes cares of them – and without complaint, I hasten to add.

In addition, there are these items on his list:

  • What to do when the all-purpose remote for the TV doesn’t work. This is a particular bone of contention in our relationship because the TV is part of Gary’s extensive sound system. The photo below indicates how complicated this system is! Let the record show that I could be happy with a 13” black and white TV. Grumble, grumble.
Wiring for Gary’s Sound System that also includes our TV.
  • How to attach the bike rack on the trunk and load up and secure my bike.
  • How to use the electric tank cleaner to clean our daughter’s turtle’s tank. (“A father’s love for his daughter knows no bounds …”) Squirtle the Turtle is about 8 inches in diameter and can produce a lot of yucky stuff. I may cut class when Gary is teaching this one. Or suggest he teach our daughter how to do this.
Squirtle, a beloved family member, is shown in her Halloween tutu costume. She is dressed as the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlov. Yes. Really.

Keep Good Notes

Whenever Gary instructs me on how to do something or gives me information, I take meticulous notes and record them on the Notes application on my Apple Mac. Although they do not all apply to matters of concern to Gary, I currently have 1,198 notes. Gary knows he can easily look up important information pertaining to our household and our lives.

For example, if he keywords in “filter,” two entries come up with the part number, ordering information, videos to watch for installation, and date it was last changed. Examples: (1) grease filter for the microwave; (2) water and ice filter for our refrigerator. I have compiled similar and detailed information for just about everything!

Our daughter and our son-in-law also know where we store important papers and they know how to access information on my computer. Of course, this assumes they can remember the password to my computer ….

Our lists will no doubt change and need modifications over time, but meanwhile, we take comfort in planning ahead so that life’s inevitable transitions will be as smooth as possible for each other and for our family. This level of preparation is a gift we lovingly give to each other.

This Just In …

A few minutes ago I was opening a FedEx package.

Gary asked, “What is that?”

I replied, “It’s a new grease filter for the microwave.”

Gary, looking perplexed, inquires, “There’s a grease filter in the microwave?”


Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
E-mail queries to [email protected]

Dr. Rancourt’s most recent book is,
Its All About Relationships: New Ways to Make Them Healthy and Fulfilling, at Home and at Work

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