I’ve been thinking a lot recently about “who I am” and how I describe myself. I even wrote a psych profile of myself. Me, trying to step outside myself, to see myself more objectively. And I started thinking of who I am as I approach retirement, what I want to have accomplished in my life by the time I pass on, etc. Somewhere in there, I started to think of it a bit as a simple question. What is my legacy from having lived? What difference did I make, what will people remember about me?
I realized early on that it depends very much on my various roles. If I go chronologically, the simplest legacy is my first role in life, as the son of Jack and Theresa. I had no legacy as a grandson as I never really knew my grandparents, I only had a grandmother left when I was born and she died when I was very young.
It’s also odd to realize too that my legacy as a son, who I was as a son, is a finite area. My parents have passed on, my ongoing duties to them are (mostly) finished. Sure, there are other things in life that I could “credit” to them having been my parents, but it is not necessarily in my role as their son. That period is officially over.
In the first 20 years of life, I don’t know that I generated much of a legacy. My father was proud of my academics, my mother probably felt like she didn’t understand me. I didn’t really understand either of them very well. I also feel like I probably seemed ungrateful, that my desire to move out, to graduate from university, to get a white collar job, etc., all seemed like somehow I was better than them. It wasn’t true, but it’s hard as a teen to realize that when you say you don’t want “x”, and “x” is what your parents want for themselves (or have at least achieved for themselves), there is inherent in that striving to better myself a judgement of what came before. Not intentional, not malicious, just there.
I was the Golden Child for my mother, that was clear, as her youngest always was, I suspect. As the last of the children, I got to keep the title and prize belt longer than the other kids. A mix of pride and expectations, not necessarily the “favourite”, more that I could rarely do wrong.
My legacy with my father
My legacy, such as it is, is probably three-fold.
First and foremost, from age 20-28, I got to know my Dad better than ever before, oddly enough from a distance. I had a better understanding of his life choices, perhaps simply reflecting the cliché that teens leave home thinking their parents know very little, yet see a few years later how much the same parents have learned in the meantime. However it came about in phone calls or from verbalizing our feelings more, I feel like he passed on with neither of us having anything left undone or unsaid. I would have liked another year or two to really solidify what we had, but nothing that would rise to the level of actual regret. I was his son, he was my father; we loved each other and we both knew how the other felt. I honour that bond when I tell my own son that I love him every day.
Second, I did my father’s eulogy. I am not quite sure that is a legacy, since he had already passed on, and we only decided after he died that I would be the one to give it. It’s a double-edged honour though. I did it, yes, but I cried my whole way through it. I doubt anyone understood a word I said. I am proud I did it, or perhaps more honoured that I had the privilege, but I wish I had “performed” better as his son.
Third, I also helped my mom after his passing. He knew I would do it, it was part of the deal we made when he appointed me co-executor. He expected and I accepted that Mom would need help, and while we didn’t discuss it in detail, it was assumed that I would be the one most likely to be able to do it without Mom feeling like I was telling her what to do as well as the duty not interfering too much with my non-existent family since I was still single. I like to think he approached his death knowing whatever needed to be one in the early stages, I would step up.
My legacy with my mother
When I started writing this, I thought the two legacies would be very different. I had a very different relationship with each of my parents, yet as I tried to describe the key variables, I find myself using the same structure.
First, again, I had a good relationship with my mother before she passed. There was nothing left unsaid or undone. As desired by my Dad, I helped her immediately after his death with a bunch of financial stuff, paperwork, etc. I still remember her telling me the day he died that she needed me to keep it together, for her and myself. At least for a little while to get through everything. And I mostly did, up until she felt comfortable doing it all on her own. I don’t know that she really needed the help, but she did appreciate it.
More importantly, to me at least, I had (mostly) reached the point where I saw her for who she was, not some childish thought of who I wished her to be. Acceptance, as they say. There were two or three things near the end that I would prefer she hadn’t done, but it was who she was. It didn’t change how I felt about her and I didn’t judge her for them, even when they annoyed me. She was 84 years old at the time of her death, having lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War; lost parents and siblings through war and aging; married and outlived her husband by another 17 years; raised six kids and lost two babies to miscarriages; worked in stores and as a cleaning lady; smoked and drank; loved trivia; and laughed whenever she could. She could be a force to be reckoned with, when she wanted to be.
Second, as with my father, I did her eulogy too. I worked my ass off to make sure I could get through it, that I could read it without crying the whole time. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I got it done the way I wanted. I have a photo on my PolyWogg website taken the day of her funeral, a remembrance of life out at the lake, with the water as calm as I had never seen it before. Eerie almost. Yet I use it to remind myself both of my mother and that I was able to honour her the way that I intended.
Third, the last part again is dealing with her estate. When my mother was in palliative care, she asked me to do three things. I was somewhat sad to tell her that two were beyond my abilities to control, and that with a family of my own, I would not accept the requests. I essentially chose to say no to two deathbed requests. That rankles me, in the abstract. She understood why I said no, and while disappointed, she wasn’t angry with me for my choice. She asked because it was something she hoped for but accepted my refusal. And I would give the same answer today.
The third request was tied to her estate, and as I had already agreed long before to be co-executor, it was more of an “add-on” to the previous request. I knew it would be unpleasant, I would much rather that I had said “No way, Jose”, but since I was already saying no to two other requests, I agreed to that one. It seemed to give her some peace of mind that I was willing to take it on. It got done, it was unpleasant, but I did what was requested. I mentioned above that I felt I was “mostly” done with my legacy, but there is something outstanding. I agreed with my siblings that I would eventually scan all my mother’s photos and share them with them, and while I’ve started a couple of times, I have no real desire to do such a large and potentially depressing project. Sigh.
I find myself wondering if there are more things to include here, like the legacies FROM my parents to me…loving books, movies, trivia, jokes. Preferring informal over formal, small get-togethers over big events. The importance of telling my wife and son that I love them, as well as my siblings. I would tell my close friends too, but well, that can get a bit creepy hehehe Yet I feel like those other legacy gifts to me will all show up in the other legacy posts.
Overall, I guess that I feel comfortable with my “legacy” as a son. Which is good because it’s not like I can change it at this point without time travel. 🙂