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Creating a connection with my mother beyond the grave

My father died when I was 7 years old. You might be surprised to learn that I don’t really miss him. Yet how can I miss someone I never really knew? Many times over the years, though, I have been curious about him. I’ve wondered what he might say to me had he still been around. I’ve wished he’d left behind a ‘Dear daughter’ letter – or even just a simple note – for me to miraculously discover one day so that I could know just how much he loved me, and carry that love (and the letter!) with me through my life. It would answer every question I ever had about him.

It never happened, of course.

Fortunately, and perhaps not surprisingly, I am very close to my mother. She is the woman I most admire in this world and the reason I work as hard as I do. I’m continually inspired by her, particularly given she recovered from not one but two bouts of breast cancer as a single mother when I was a child. Being without her on this planet is something I really don’t ever want to have to deal with, but the odds are, someday in my lifetime, I will.

In fact, not that long ago, Mum mentioned she really wanted a specific piece of music played at her own celebration of life. Having survived cancer, she’s a bit of a realist, so talking openly about her funeral plans felt shockingly matter of fact at the time! But this simple comment from her got me thinking…there was quite a bit of very crucial information about her end-of-life wishes I didn’t know. I didn’t know who she would like to have speak on the day, which music she wanted to be played, or how she wanted the day to look, or feel. Did she want to be buried or cremated? Was there somewhere special she wanted her ashes scattered? So many questions.

Around the same time, I attended the funeral of a close family friend and witnessed first-hand, again, the confusion and pain that arises from grieving loved ones left behind with so many unanswered questions. Funerals aside, there is a lot more for grieving families to manage when a loved one passes.

It was my a-ha moment.

Mum has led a big life (if you hadn’t already guessed!); a life full of stories, travels, and adventures that could fill a book – and then another. I realised what I wanted for my mum was what I never had with my father: a place, a central location, where these stories could be left behind, her adventures documented, and her final wishes stored safely until they were needed. A connection between my mum and me beyond the grave.

And so AddendoVault was born. Driven by a desire to create – and preserve – a connection with my mum beyond the grave, I started working on a solution to save others the stress, confusion, and grief of losing a loved one and feeling the connection is gone. What I created is an online vault containing everything families needed to stay connected. A single destination to make the transition into post-life and all the administration and arrangements that are required as straightforward as possible, whilst also creating a platform or home for that person’s ongoing legacy.

I interviewed friends, family, funeral directors, and nurses all in an attempt to create the best, most comprehensive platform I could. I looked at solutions overseas and spoke to wills and estate lawyers, all of which enabled me to build a platform with compassion, kindness, and empathy for those who would be using it, and importantly the platform I would use to stay connected to my own mother when the time comes.

Making – and keeping – connections beyond the grave

How does it work? The primary user creates a vault then simply follows a series of prompts to in-fill as much information as possible into the various sections. Vault ‘holders’ can add as much or as little info as they want. It is completely secure and personal. No one else can add or update information. Vault holders can then nominate loved ones and/or professional contacts – ‘key holders’ – to be given access, and determine different levels of access for different people at different times.

When the vault holder passes, one of the key holders registers the death. Then, after 12 hours, or once another key holder confirms the person’s death, the vault is opened by the nominated key holder.

Although it’s still upsetting to think about, I’m so glad my mum mentioned to me that song she wanted to be played at her funeral. I hope AddendoVault enables me to build – and keep – that connection with her beyond the grave that I was never able to have with my dad. But I also hope I won’t have to worry about that for a long time.

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Championing the voices of midlife women by nurturing connections and leading conversations around the midlife experience.

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"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."

Sharon Begley