I’m happy to announce that my oldest daughter Gabi became engaged recently to her longtime boyfriend, Benjamin Bernstein. Gabi resides and works in New York City, which, as we all know, was the original United States’ epicenter for the COVID-19 crisis. Florida has since challenged that dubious role.
The last time Patti and I were with Gabi and Benji was last December when we vacationed together as a family, including our other daughters, Courtney and Madison.
Several weeks ago, Benji called seeking our blessing to ask for Gabi’s hand. Of course, Patti and I enthusiastically agreed, as we love him like a son already. He brings out the best in our daughter. A couple of weeks after that telephone call he took Gabi on a hike up Mount Tammany overlooking the Delaware River, where he proposed.
Benji and Gabi returned to his parents’ Jersey Shore residence where a celebration ensued. Patti and I, along with Courtney and Madi, toasted the couple over Zoom, as did one of Benji’s brothers who works in Berlin. We wish we could have been there, but with the COVID travel restrictions between the NYC Metropolitan area and Florida, that wasn’t possible.
We don’t know when we’ll be able to give Gabi and Benji a real, in person hug. It probably won’t be for at least a few more months if we’re fortunate. Our family isn’t unique. Thank goodness we had a happy event to celebrate. Many families separated by a thousand miles or more have been missing out on all sorts of interactions, including some serious ones.
But COVID has brought us a silver lining. Most of us are now familiar with communicating through video technology whether it’s through FaceTime, Zoom, Teams or several other popular platforms. It’s no longer foreign to us. My 83-year-old technically challenged mother-in-law who’s trapped in her Tamarac townhouse talks to us weekly through FaceTime and Zoom.
The technology doesn’t necessarily replace in-person contact, at least not totally for me, yet it does bridge a gap between simple telephone calls and being there. Gabi was proud to show off her engagement ring. We could see her beaming face and feel her happiness.
This presents the opportunity to build better relationships and family togetherness. From an estate planning standpoint, it enables a family to build for a common purpose. Family members can work together to create something greater than any one of them can build alone.
A family that emphasizes education, for example, can discuss how Mom and Dad’s estate plan can be used to promote this value. Families who are charitably inclined can instill these values from the eldest generation down to its youngest by openly discussing how an estate plan can be fashioned to promote its values, whether religious, ecological, medical, educational or artistic.
Most importantly, today’s educational tools enable a family’s patriarchs and matriarchs to discuss the “why” behind the “what”. A dry estate planning document may simply name charitable institutions. A family discussion, however, can center on why this institution was chosen over that. Why this charitable planning vehicle is better than its alternative, why a tax law might encourage one strategy over another, etc.
I’ve participated in several of these family video conferences, offering explanation to reinforce my client’s intent. What’s evident to me is how these discussions provide a necessary commentary which empowers the other generations beyond what can be achieved solely through the written word. Video technology conveys more context, emotion and content than a telephone ever could.
And it’s becoming more common, I believe because of COVID. Further, this tool is unlikely to be discarded once we return to a more “normal” life. Many families will continue to reside miles apart from one another. The distance becomes emotional as well as physical, until something like COVID happens, and the blessings of technology enable us to find new ways to bond.
For this, I’m grateful. Unfortunately, COVID has also created problems with engaged couples trying to plan weddings. It seems that so many weddings have been pushed back into 2021, that finding a suitable venue for a weekend before the end of next year appears challenging.
If that’s my family’s grand challenge today, we’re surely in a good place, aren’t we?
© 2020 Craig R. Hersch. Originally published in the Sanibel Island Sun.