My Last Will and Testament (Sort Of)

By Wendy Thomas Russell | December 13, 2012 | 10 comments

One thing about being a nonreligious parent is that I have no expectation of an afterlife. I believe that when I leave the universe, I leave it for good. And whatever “spirit” I have survives only in the memories of the people I love.

Which is enough. Honestly, it is.

But it also makes me hyper-aware of what I leave behind. And that is especially true when it comes to my daughter. For the first few years of her life, I couldn’t help but be concerned that I would die, and all of what we’d experienced together would be lost because she would be too young to remember of any it. She might not know how much I loved her. She might not know how special she was.

So I started making books. I guess you could call them scrapbooks, although they’re as much about the stories as the pictures. In them I pour all the funny anecdotes and quotes I have amassed over the years (usually found on scraps of paper scattered throughout the house, but also culled from my Facebook page and Twitter feed). I put in conversations (like the one she had with my husband about what God looks like), essays (about what she was like at that particular age) and personal messages (that center on my feelings for her.)

At first, she ignored the books, of course. She was too young to really understand what they meant. But now that she’s 7, that’s no longer true. These books are some of her most prized possessions. In fact, I’ve started to print two copies: one for her room and one for keeping. The copies in her room are already quite tattered; that’s how often she opens them. It’s hilarious how little she remembers of things that happened only a few years ago. She thinks the things she said and did and thought are terribly cute and funny. Sometimes I hear her telling her friends the stories she has read in her books.

In a way, these books are my last will and testament. Much more important to me than any instructions I’m leaving behind about money. (Although she may not think so one day!) Everything of any consequence that has happened to us is included in these pages. Everything wonderful and insightful and just plain funny that has come out of her mouth is listed. Everything I want her to remember — it’s all there.

I make one of these books every year for Maxine’s birthday, and every year when I finish it and send it off to print, there’s this little voice in the back of my head that says, “Now I can die happy.”



  1. Jenni says:

    My husband and I (grew up religious and both independently lost our religion in college, but have religious families) often talk about how we struggle with the idea of no longer believing in life after death. I had decided long ago what I would tell my son when the time arose that he asked about what happened after death. I believe that we live on in others hearts and memories by our actions… we can choose whether those memories are good or bad by how we treat one another. I believe that. But, at times when I am scared/stressed/tired I find myself wishing I still believed in the peachy little dream of heaven. I think that this project will be such a great way to battle those feelings! I love that, in a way, I’d be leaving a bit of me and my life behind while still getting to make a special memory for my son.

  2. cassie says:

    What a fantastic idea! I sort of thought my blog would serve this purpose–to remind us of little details/quotes that I knew I’d forget one day–but since I’ve been terrible about updating it the past couple of years, I feel I’ve missed so much now. Time to start taking notes again, and I love love love this book idea! My oldest will turn 7 in March and I know she would love a book like this. Thanks for the thought!

  3. JT says:

    I think a monster would need to be really gross to make a person vomit in her own ear.

  4. Heidi says:

    I agree. Best. Idea. EVER. It might be late, but I think I’m going to make it a priority to do this for my kids for their birthdays starting this year. Thank you for sharing. My one big fear is also that I will die and my children won’t remember me or ever know just how much I loved them and loved being their mom. This is perfect!

  5. Katie says:

    wow, wow- your daughter’s response made me feel at ease. Thank you for showing me my daughter isn’t the only one that screams odd yet completely amazingly hysterical things.

  6. Melissa says:

    Best. Idea. EVER.

Leave a Reply

Due out March 31, Relax, It's Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You're Not Religious offers a well-researched look at a timely subject: secular parenting. With chapters on avoiding indoctrination, talking about death, vaccinating kids against intolerance, dealing with religious baggage, and getting along with religious relatives, the book offers a refreshingly compassionate approach to raising religiously literate, highly tolerant and critically thinking children capable of making up their own minds about what to believe. The book may be pre-ordered by visiting Brown Paper Press.

      Natural Wonderers is my new blog published by the Patheos faith network. An extension of my previous blog — Relax, It's Just God — Natural Wonderers offers stories and advice on raising curious, compassionate children in secular families.
                    Become a Subscriber!
                            Stay Connected