Approximately 15 years ago, I wrote the following, and now that my nearly-19 year old son is getting ready to move into his first apartment, I thought it was a great time to resurrect this. Nothing has been changed except for the addition of pictures and bold. My sentiments are all the same.
I’ve reached my mid-30s and have developed some habits that I think relate directly to my age. One, I take much better care of my mind and body than I did in my 20s. No longer can I survive on a few hours of sleep or eat a fat-laden diet as I did in earlier years. Two, I absolutely love the lessons of life, both its hard and easy lessons. I strive to enjoy whatever I’m doing as I realize I am not guaranteed tomorrow. Three, (and most relative to this writing), I’ve taken up looking at the obituaries in the paper.
I’m not being morbid. It’s a fact of life that I’ve reached the age where acquaintances, parents of friends, coworkers and sadly, friends, do indeed leave this earth. And I review the newspaper to see if anyone I know or have known has passed away. I’ve unfortunately learned about the death of people I’ve cared about in this very way and it’s a shock to turn the page and see the name of someone pop out at me. I think, “No, it couldn’t be…” but sure enough, when I read the details of the person’s life, it is indeed him or her.
There is also a side effect of reading the obituaries. It’s reading about the life of people that I never did know. It’s realizing that the lives of 70 or 80 year olds, or even the lives of children and young adults are neatly summarized in a few paragraphs. How can a life full of emotions and actions be wrapped up so succinctly? How can the life of one who loved, hated, cried, laughed, gave birth, worked, played, and achieved possibly be completely captured in a few sentences? It’s obvious that any summary of a life leaves out so many vital facts; anyone preparing such a document can only hope that they accurately capture the most important parts.
And this short summary of one’s life also brings up another thought. Given that our lives will be so neatly summed, what is it that we should like to have included as the important actions of our time on this earth? Or perhaps, more importantly, what is it that I wish to make sure I accomplish while I’m here so that there is something important that can be written when I’m gone? What do I, as a 36 year old with two children, a husband, a house, a career, parents, in-laws, a sister, hobbies, likes and dislikes, want to make sure I do during my lifetime here? What do I want to be remembered for? What do I want to leave here as a legacy to my life?
There’s no easy answer. I think we’re here to do good for others, to help society, to stretch as individuals, to constantly strive to be better people. I think we would all like to be remembered as kind, charitable and giving. We all have hard times we must live through; we learn our own lessons and develop our own way to deal with the ups and downs of life. Perhaps many of us would like to be remembered as strong enough to overcome the difficulties of our lives. Our legacy could be a sense of strength to be carried on by those we leave behind. Some of us are able to live an extremely comfortable life, while others live in hard poverty, and many in the middle of these two extremes. Perhaps we would like to be remembered for our actions to help equalize the differences between poor and rich. We are all constantly struggling with our faith, our beliefs, our likes and dislikes. We are always hoping and striving and achieving and overcoming. Perhaps we would like others to remember our ability to reach our goals. No, the answer of what we want to leave behind is not easy.
But I have my answer – it is my children. As I sit here writing this, I hear sounds from the other room. It’s my four year-old and two year-old sons playing. Before I became a mother, and before I even knew I wanted to be one, my answer would have been totally different than it is today. However, now I know the most important job I have is to raise my children to be fair and honest, to be accepting of others regardless of how they look or act or think. To be willing to listen to the other side of an issue and then make up their minds. To not be as stubborn as I am. To be considerate of the people in their lives. To help those less fortunate. To learn how to cook and take care of a house. To be able to take care of themselves. To like to learn. To like themselves. To like others. To be faithful. To love. To laugh. To care.
I’m not measuring my worth in what occupations my children select. Although parents tend to hope their children will become financially successful, and I am no exception, that is not my goal. I don’t care if they are doctors or lawyers or janitors, musicians or painters or farmers, teachers or soldiers or participants in big business. Instead, what I must do in order to be proud of my legacy is to raise my children to become happy and well-adjusted, caring adults. That’s it. If they show concern for others and enjoy their lives, I have done my job well.
And when my life is done, all of that love and work and concern and caring and training and discipline and nurturing that I supplied to raise my children will be summarized in one neat little word: “mother.” Just as it is in those unemotional words in the obituaries of all those people I have never known.