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What will be your legacy?

24 November 2008 · Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

My mother died of pancreatic cancer 3 months ago, today. It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. The experience has prompted in me some reflection on my own life, at the mid-way point.

I was fortunate to be able to travel back to the States for 2 weeks before my mother’s death. We couldn’t really afford it financially or otherwise, but I consider it a gift that I was able to spend a little more time with her.

I have known for a long time, though she did not talk about it much, that mom had a lot of regrets and bitterness about her life not turning out how she’d hoped. I wrote about it 10 years ago, and I think it remained true until her final days.

Mom’s legacy
Mom’s legacy

One of the last things I said to my mother was that she should feel proud of her legacy. The Saturday I was home, we gathered most of her children and grandchildren for a barbecue at the house. She was leaving behind 4 kids who made it to adulthood relatively sane and intact, 11 beautiful, healthy grandkids, and her first great-grandchild on the way. I hope reminding her of her legacy gave my mother some measure of comfort as the curtain was closing on her life.

Each of us outlives our deaths in some way. For some, it is in the form of something built or written that’s worth remembering. Some are gifted enough to create works of art, organizations, or even ideas that will be preserved and perhaps celebrated years hence.

Sadly, some may only be “remembered” as a dry statistic in their final hospital’s files.

One way we all live on is in the influence we have had on others, a kind of ripple effect of energy—positive, negative, or some combination thereof—that resonates in ways either amplified or diminished over time.

Me, I wish I could say I’m creating a more worthwhile legacy. I’m building software, which has the shelf life of a banana. I take some photographs, but nothing notorious. That leaves my ripple effect.

Allie and Erin
These two deserve the best I have to give, maybe better.

Mid-way through my 40th year, I feel disappointed. I’m disappointed that I’m not doing nearly the job I thought myself capable of with my relationships. Life is teaching me that I am so much less capable, so much less resilient than I imagined even 10 years ago when I still believed what my mother had told me growing up, that there was nothing I couldn’t do.

I also feel afraid. I’m afraid that when I die, it will be with regrets, like my mother’s, about how much more positive influence I could have left behind.

The death of a parent and my reaching mid-life have bought these issues to the fore. It feels like the clock is ticking for me to (finally) get my act together. I have a lot of life before me, but if the next 40 years goes by as quickly as have the last 40, it will be over before I know it. However I go about it, I will be left to reckon with the ever-cascading effects of this day’s decisions.

I will never get today back. May I do more with it than I did yesterday, more than the day before.