I went to a funeral visitation last weekend for the mom of a good friend of mine from high school. She died with cancer waging war on her brain, so for the last several months, she had been slowly slipping away from her family. Her daughter – my good friend – has spent the last year battling breast cancer, so to say that I hold the deepest admiration and awe and respect for her is an understatement. She is an amazing woman with deep faith in an even more amazing God.
I gave her the biggest hug I could, and we starting talking about her mom. I reminded her that her sweet mom had this incredible way of always making me feel welcome in their home. In fact, I can’t remember ever being at her house when it was not buzzing with people. This wonderful lady, already with two kids of her own, took two additional kids under her wing when they had no where else to go, and she raised them as her own. One of them, also a good friend of mine, recalled how they would go on family vacations together with their friends in tow, and she was never ruffled. She made sure they always ate dinner together, and there was always enough to feed anyone else who happened to be there at dinnertime.
Michael’s dad is nearing the end of his life here with us. It’s horribly sad, but as Nancy Reagan said of her husband, it has been a long good-bye. A very, very long good-bye. Many years have passed since Michael has known the father he knew as a child and a young adult. Our kids will never know who he really is, and that is one of the most difficult things for Michael to face. In a strange, guilt-ridden juxtaposition, we are ready for his dad to be free of the disease that has slowly crippled him and stolen him from us, even as we grieve the loss of him.
His legacy is that of laughter and humor, of cross-country family vacations in the Custom Cruiser with stops at every historical marker, of an encyclopedic knowledge of anywhere they traveled. It is a legacy of utmost integrity and honesty and faith.
I love what Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s son said of his mother: “She never held a political office, but she changed the world. Period. End of story.”
In the face of these great losses and the accompanying grief, I can’t help but wonder what kind of legacy I would leave. Michael and I have had long discussions about this. What would my friends and my children’s friends say as they stood next to my coffin?
(Actually, for the record, please make sure that my organs are donated and the remainder of me cremated, or that my lifeless body ends up in a medical school gross anatomy lab. I have this weird irrational fear of waking up in a closed coffin. I think I read an Edgar Allen Poe short story about that one time. Curse you, Edgar.)
Sorry. Had to lighten up a very heavy moment there.
But seriously – what is my legacy? I hope, like my friend’s mom, that it will be one of boundless hospitality. I hope, like my father-in-law, that it will be one of laughter and integrity and faith. I hope that people will remember me as compassionate and forgiving and generous. I hope that my life will speak of a love for justice for those who do not have an advocate and help for those who are persecuted. I hope, as a writer, that the words I leave behind will breathe life and hope and joy into those who read them.
Which, of course, begs the question: what am I doing now, while I still have breath in my lungs, to create that legacy? How am I hospitable or generous? And what am I doing to serve the underserved and stand up for the persecuted? How do the words I type encourage and lift up and breathe?
I have some great ideas and lots of strong opinions, but fleshing those out… well, I probably need to work on that a little more.
Hopefully sooner than later – because, y’know, there’s a medical school somewhere in need of another study subject.