My doctor recently told me that I was the youngest looking and acting senior patient that he has. Of course I smiled at that description, but inside my heart skipped a beat because I still don’t think of myself as being old. The visage I see in the mirror seems out of sync with who I am and how I feel. Nonetheless it has become a regular feature of my life to learn of yet another person in my age group who has died. I’ve been to more funerals and memorials in the past three months than I usually attend in a year. The fact is that I am getting older and I never know when it will be my turn to take my last breath. From the standpoint of probability there is a kind of certainty that it will happen sometime in the next twenty-five years.
Many of the deaths of friends and family members have reminded me that the end of life often comes suddenly and unexpectedly. There is no assurance that I still have many years ahead despite my continued energy and enthusiasm for living. If I were wise I would begin to prepare for what may lie ahead instead of leaving things to chance and the good will of my surviving family members. The death of a loved one is difficult enough without having to plan the final goodbyes, and I have done little to let my family know my wishes.
I suppose that I put off such things because I don’t do death well and I don’t like to talk about it. I tend to pretend that all is well when the reality is that I would prefer to avoid grief even as I know that it is unrealistic for me to think that such inaction is healthy for me or the people around me. I would do better to prepare for my eventual demise beyond having a will so that my children need only use my directions to complete the final celebration of the circle of my life.
I always remember my mother struggling to find a plot in which to bury my father and then planning his funeral. She was in no frame of mind for such things and yet it fell to her. When she died it was much easier for me and my brothers because she had already made her wishes known, even in what kind of flowers she wished to adorn her casket. We knew the songs that she liked for the funeral and she already had a gravesite next to our father. We were able to grieve more than conduct business. We also knew without questions what had been most important to her in her life, so writing an obituary that adequately described her legacy was not difficult.
I have avoided doing those things or having discussions with my family. I have not told them who I want them to contact if I die. I have many friends that they do not know. I need to provide them with list of people who have been integral to my life. I want my daughters to know that there are aspects of who I am that are incredibly important to me. Obviously my immediate family is at the center of my universe, but my brothers and their wives and children are also at the heart of who I am. I have cousins that I love like sisters and brothers. I have longtime and recent friends. There are students who were like my children.
I treasure the learning that I received at Mt Carmel High School and the University of Houston. I am incredibly proud of my teaching and all of the schools where I worked. I even served for a time as the Director of Education at one of my churches. I come alive when I write. It is one of my greatest pleasures. I also use it at times as a vehicle for the causes that are important to me. I am an advocate for justice, the environment, education, democracy, refugees and those who struggle to defend themselves. I sometimes get into trouble for voicing my views, but it is something that I feel compelled to do.
I suppose that one’s legacy in life is not so much what they want it to be, but what others think it should be. It’s possible that when people consider my life they may not see what I have accomplished in the same way that I do. They may think me a fool to espouse some of the beliefs that I have. They may wonder why I did not better use my talents or leave more of a financial nest egg behind. I understand that I have often marched to a drumbeat that is different than many individuals, making it difficult for them to comprehend why I have lived the way I have.
I mostly hope that everyone understands how much they have meant to me. There is nothing more important to me than people, and not just those that I know. I have tried to project my feelings, but I know that there have been times when my fervor has been totally misunderstood. I also know that I have lost patience or come across as unkind even as I was attempting to be compassionate. I suppose that this is the fate of all humans. No matter how hard we try, we will not please everyone.
I tend to believe that everyone leaves a remarkable legacy in one way or another. Mine is about average in the grand scheme of things, but all I can really say is that I tried with all of my heart to be kind and to love. If even a few of the people I have encounter understood this, then I have led a successful life and perhaps I have enough years left that more good things are yet to come.