Thursday, April 28, 2011

Loss, What's Missing and Legacies

Not surprisingly, there have been several things on my mind the last couple of months. Some of it has to do with me looking at my life, and some with what appears to be missing.
This is what is missing in this new, alternate reality I seem to be living in:
  • Mom smiling on the porch when Nehi and I get back from our morning walk
  • Mom talking to me about her day
  • Mom ranting about whatever has bothered me at work that day
  • Mom patting my head when I'm laying on the couch sick
  • Mom leaving me Post-Its all over the place
  • The movie tickets Dad gave Mom for Christmas
  • Mom's address book  Found under a pile of crap in the library
  • The fear of coming home and finding Mom passed out
  • All the future moments I won't get to share with her
  • Mom seeing how the Harry Potter movies end up
  • Mom making Easter baskets
  • Mom's ridiculous cards booby trapped with confetti
Perhaps it's only natural when someone dies to think about your own life. Here's the conclusion I've come to- when you're 35 and single, there is little you will leave behind. On medical forms, where it says to list someone as a contact who doesn't live with you, I don't have anyone to put. I have no one to leave anything to. Thinking about making arrangments and a will, there is no one to take care of, there is nothing to leave behind.
I know- George Bailey, we all have a greater impact, blah, blah, blah. But I think of what Mom left behind. There was a lot of evidence of her last years being so terribly sick, but very little of anything else. There was no evidence of what a strong person she was raising two kids on her own. There was no evidence of her incredible imagination. Her sense of magic, her love of so many things.

If someone had judged Mom simply by what she left behind, they would have thought her a crazy hoarder, not the person she used to be. What would people judge me by? Who do I leave things to? Who will go through my things? Who will care to linger over things I've written or photos I've kept? With no one to leave anything to, will the collected items of a lifetime of adventures end up in a dumpster somewhere? What legacy do I leave behind? Mom left behind two children, that in very different ways, reflect all the lessons she passed on to us. Children are the ultimate legacy, but if you aren't married, and don't have children, what legacy do you have? What permanence is there that you existed on the Earth?

As I go through Mom's things, there are lots of things that she has that were passed on to her from her mother. Photos, linens, silverware- the evidence of a life lived. Things that should be passed on to the next generation. What happens to all of these things when there is no next generation? Do the minutiae of your life matter less somehow if there is no one to pass these things onto?

One of the things that has surprised me is how quickly everyone moves on. All the well wishers that came to her memorial service that disappeared, leaving Dad and I to slowly put one foot in front of the other and try to figure out what this new life is all on our own. There was no held breath, no stopping to mourn. The merry-go-round just kept spinning, as if her death meant nothing to the larger world. If this woman who lived such a rich life didn't put a pause in people's steps, what happens with me?
Will there even be anyone to let people know?
Will anyone be here to go through my things, and treasure things left behind?
Will there be anyone who lingers over a note in my handwriting simply for the reminder?
Who cancels my Facebook and email accounts?

I have accomplished many things- I've earned two master's degrees. I put myself through college, three times. I've travelled cross country by myself three times. I've written poetry, and blogs, and memoirs, and novels. I've taught for ten years and over 1000 students. I've presented at conferences. I've drawn and doodled and loved and laughed. I've had kitties and iguanas and a puppy. I've chronicled my adventures in photos. I've watched movies. I've chronicled my adventures in the art of tattoos. I've always kept my checkbook balanced. I've bought a house and turned it into a home. I've planted a garden.
Yet when I list these things out, they do not seem like much of a legacy. The degrees are pieces of paper, the writings the same. The students forget. The photos fade. The house gets sold, the garden gets overgrown. There seems to be little that is permanent and tangible to leave behind.

I miss my Mom more than I can describe. While in some ways life is easier now, there isn't anything I wouldn't trade to have her back. And while I like to think that she is at least free from a life that caused her so much pain and unhappiness, I find myself lost without her here on a daily basis. I seem to have lost the rudder that guided me all of my life. She won't be here if I fall in love, or get to see me get married. Or get my PhD. Or teach at college. She isn't here for anything. And without her, I don't seem to know how to define my life.
While children are supposed to be a parent's legacy, she was my permanence, the one thing I could always count on. She was my legacy.
Everyone says it will get easier. That time makes it better. All I know is that I'm still putting one foot in front of the other, until I can stop thinking of just putting one foot in front of the other.