It’s My Birthday… And I’m Giving the Gifts!

I have a big birthday coming up (hint: my hair is grayer now than ever before) and I’m giving the gifts – don’t worry, there’s something for you, too!

On Saturday, about one hundred of my family and friends are coming together virtually to celebrate my 50th birthday and I am giving the presents.

gentreo founder renee fry and her son

Renee and her son, Liam.

As much as I would like to say this was my idea, I have to give credit to my mother. When we were young, she wouldn’t allow others to bring gifts for my brother, sister, or myself when we had birthday parties; instead we would give gifts to everyone who attended. 

Being an eight-year-old, you can imagine that this seemed obscure (and possibly a few other choice words my mother said she didn’t know that I knew at the time). —I will admit that, on my 16th birthday, I cheated and told people I would welcome presents. 

The good news is that, while it may have taken me a while to learn why we gave gifts to others, I now know that there is much more joy in making others happy than focusing on yourself. With even a simple, small act of kindness, you can make life just a little bit easier, nicer, or even more fun… and the joy comes full-circle.

Later, when I was thirty-seven, I had a seizure, was taken to the hospital by ambulance, and learned that I had a non-cancerous brain tumor the size of a racquetball. I had one headache and no other symptoms, so you can bet that this was unexpected, to say the least. During my prolonged stay at Mass General Hospital, wonderful friends, and colleagues from around the world sent flowers and gifts. My room was full of joy; the flowers kept me smiling even though I was tremendously scared.

One day, I took a walk and saw very few other flowers, but I saw my same fear echoed in the faces of patients and their families. I asked my nurse if we could start giving out my flowers to other patients to try to help them by knowing that people were thinking about them. She supported the idea, and we brought smiles to quite a few patients and their loved ones. And, during the long nights when visitors were not allowed, everyone had something to look at to try to make them feel just a little bit better. I got better and got to go home. I got to get married, have a son, and run a great company. Many other patients were not as lucky, but sharing in my gifts may have helped just a little, even if it was just a smile or two.

At my wedding two years later, my husband and I asked for donations to Mass General Hospital’s brain center. Our friends and loved ones were extremely generous and donated thousands and thousands in our names! The knowledge that through these donations we may have saved a life, helped support breakthrough technology, or paid a hard-working nurse or doctor’s salary, still gives us joy.

A few years ago, I co-founded Gentreo, an online company that provides affordable estate planning for families. 

Today, less than 20% of people have a complete and up-to-date estate plan. When I got sick, I did not have anyone named as my Health Care Proxy and had no beneficiaries to name in a Will. I didn’t think I needed these documents, and as a result, I was woefully unprepared for my diagnosis. If someone does not do estate planning, that person’s estate can lose anywhere from three to eight percent to unnecessary lawyer and legal fees, which is most likely thousands and thousands of dollars. And now that I am married and have a son, I want to make sure he will be cared for if something happens to my husband and I. If you have minor children (or pets) and you pass away without a Will that reflects your current wishes, courts will decide who cares for them. 

Children and pets deserve protection. 

Estate planning helps everyone give gifts to those they care about most. It is a gift we can all give that will outlast us.

On Saturday, at my birthday party, we will be showing lots of great pictures (only the good ones, as I took out the ones we may just want to forget), sharing memories and celebrating friendship. We will also be playing purse bingo, where if you win, you get a designer purse or wallet. No presents. 

Turns out my mother was right – as usual. I am grateful to all those who are my friends and want them to know that I am thankful—not only to be here, but for their friendship as well and look forward to giving gifts on my birthday.


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