Legacies and Living Memorials

Our parents never leave us. It sounds a little corny because it’s been said so often. But it’s been said so often because it’s true. Please excuse me if I get a little sappy as the second anniversary of my mother’s death nears.

The other day, I had a conversation with two friends who have also lost their mothers. The three of us, middle-aged ladies all, confessed that we still carry on mental conversations with our deceased parents, and that our mothers especially make themselves heard in our heads quite a lot. One said her mother tells her she should be doing more, the other that her mom is her cheerleader. My mother pops in to express disappointment when I behave with less kindness than I could have.

Yet another acquaintance who has recently lost her mom has started a project, along with her partner, to honor her mother’s memory. Once a week, they put forth an extra effort to do a good deed for someone — delivering supplies to a shelter, for instance. Her mom was an avid volunteer. They are filling the void as they can, helping people she would have helped were she still around.

I have a couple of pieces of my mom’s jewelry – a turquoise bracelet and a butterfly pin. They aren’t worth a lot of money, but I like them and they help keep her memory alive when I wear one of them. I also treasure one of her favorite books, 101 Famous Poems, and frequently read the ones she kept bookmarked.

People inherit all sorts of things from their parents — eye color, musical talent, junk cars, fancy cars, money, debt, beloved books or quilts. But the examples our moms and dads set for us, the lessons we learned from their lives and behavior constitute the largest legacies, the ones with the most impact.

We all have to choose how to use those inheritances once our parents are gone. We can squander money and we can squander lessons learned. Or we can choose to fund endowments or to apply the lesson in a positive way. Sometimes the only thing a parent leaves is a warning example of how not to live. Even that can be made into something of value when the surviving child chooses to do better.

My parents both had their flaws, as do we all. I’ve thought a lot about what positive legacy I want to carry on from each of them. I didn’t inherit money, so I can’t fund scholarships or charities. But from my dad, I can carry on his life-long love of learning, a desire to research and read and dig for information and continue to learn to do new things. I can pass it along to benefit others by teaching some of what I know, which I do through my writing and through teaching tech classes at the library where I work. One of my mom’s best characteristics was one I took for granted until I was an adult, because I didn’t realize how sadly rare it was. You know the advice, “If you can’t say something nice…” She lived it. She never spoke ill of others behind their backs, even if I could clearly see they deserved it. I can best honor my mom by trying to emulate that quality. My memorial to her is the goal of striving to speak with kindness not only to people in their presence, but about people when they are not around. To be honest, I can tend to be a little complainy at times, so this is a good work-out for me.

My biggest hope for my own children has always been that they’d grow up to be people who cared, who wanted to do good in the world. As they’re now in the early years of adulthood, I’m seeing those dreams come to fruition. They both display kindness and empathy on the regular. I hope the voice I leave in their heads will be one that helps more than hurts. I hope they’ll memorialize me when I’m gone by striving to add more love to the world.



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