My mother died when I was 25, my brother just 24. It’s a hole in my life that will never truly heal, a hole that is filled with questions that will never be answered, conversations we never had, and experiences— both mundane and profound— that we never had the chance to share. Without her, I have found myself searching for her in me, knowing that both physically and emotionally I am much more (for good or for ill) my father. Yet a moment of remembering to focus on the positive as she always did, living out her oft-stated value that “the children come first” makes me feel that there is some echo of her in who I am, some reflection of the person that she was in her all-too-brief life.
More than in myself, though, I look for her in my children, in my brother’s children. I see her bottomless brown eyes in my oldest son, I see her gentleness in my youngest and her compassionate heart in all of them. It is in my beloved niece, Rebecca, where I see the clearest reflection, not in appearance but in essence, in who she is at her core. The only word I can use to describe that quality of my mother’s is “centered.” She had the ability to maintain her balance in all circumstances and she had the ability to just be still, to be that pond without a ripple, the smooth sand blown flat by the wind. You could feel this when you spoke with her, feel her absolute focus on you, know that there was nowhere else and nothing else for her in that moment. Rebecca has some of that, it has been a part of her character since childhood. There is a peace in her, a calm that lives in her core, in the center of her being. There is a natural patience that is much a part of her, as it was her grandmother, as breathing. I have none of that in me and perhaps that makes it even more striking when I see it, and feel it, in Rebecca.
As we, in the world of older adult services, work with many at the end of life, we often have conversations with families about “legacy,” about what their loved one leaves behind. We talk about that in terms of what mark they have made on the world. Some have created in ways that will live on, putting their stamp on the world in a tangible way, building some “thing” they hope will have permanence. Yet others have not had that kind of career, that kind of life and we talk about what they leave behind, beyond the people they have touched, beyond the memories they have created.
When we talk about those legacies, I think it is also important to ask ourselves where those echoes are, where we see the continuity from generation to generation. It is not just biology, it is also the qualities we learn and share, the ideas we carry forward, the character we display. Our lives, and the lives of those we love, continue through us, through all those they have touched and through the children that follow. I hope that we can each not only recognize that but take a moment and acknowledge it, keeping their memory alive for many generations to come.