In her mid-30s Erin Kramp thought long and carefully about what she wanted to leave her daughter, Peyton. Comfort, advice and humor were among the assets Erin wanted to bestow, all adding up to a portrait of who she was. And so she began to make tapes, creating messages that her daughter could count on receiving years into the future.
"When you're picking your career," Erin advised in one message, "don't pick what you think I would want you to do. Don't pick what you know would make Dad happy for you to pick. I want you to pick something, whether you're schooled in it or not, that you have passion for."
At the time, in 1997, Erin required a steady oxygen supply because she was dying of cancer that had spread to her lungs. Her focus on creating a legacy as a mother was unshakable, from the first message she recorded.
"I had to get up, and I had to cut three times," she told me then, "because I kept crying, thinking I can't believe I'm talking to her as if I wasn't here. Then, I started really getting into it, and started, you know, thinking ... this is my only chance to really communicate with her some of the things I think are important."
Erin was raised in Dallas and married entrepreneur Doug Kramp in 1987. They were a vivacious, charismatic, adventurous couple. She was a fast-thinking venture capitalist who advised Doug on business deals. Their daughter, Peyton, was born five years into the marriage, on March 5, 1992. Two years later, Erin discovered a lump in her breast -- a malignant cancer diagnosed as fatal. She immediately went to work to try to prepare herself, her husband and her daughter for what was to come.
"There's two nurses and a doctor," Doug Kramp remembered, "and Erin has already got a pad of paper and a pen, and she's grilling them on questions. 'OK now, who do I need to talk to?' And I just remember thinking, 'Oh my gosh, she's already attacking this thing.'"
Erin and Doug wrote a book called "Living With the End in Mind" -- a checklist for preparing for death and embracing mortality.
Doug assumed a lot of the tasks that were part of Peyton's daily routines.
"Doug started taking over the role of putting Peyton to bed, so that if I wasn't around, she would have the same routine," Erin said. "When she falls asleep, I come and pray over her at night, at the foot of her bed."
In one of her tapes, Erin promised Peyton, "Love will sustain you more than anything, and you are the most privileged person I know because of all the love that comes your way."
Erin began thinking of her daughter in two ways: as the carefree preschool child she was and as the young woman she would be when she viewed her mother's tapes in the future.
Erin acknowledged that going over all the details related to dying may sound unsettling to people who fear that anticipating death will hasten it, but, she said, doing so eliminated stress that could have plagued her.
"What would happen if I passed away? Who would take care of my child? There's a huge sense of panic. But once I finished [preparing], the panic was all gone. Everything was in place."