This month has had half a foot in the hereafter…this week in particular.
Muddled into question marks hanging over my future, and consistent over-thinking about my past, the week stood out – its general unremarkability contrasted with the surreality of a day of commemoration.
We bid a final farewell to my Nana’s bodily form, scattering her ashes beneath a pine tree in the crematorium grounds, juggling myriad emotions about her life, her passing, and a faintly hysterical relief the wind was blowing away from us. We scattered rose petals, which fell in curls of soft pink, magenta, and butter-yellow, rendering the stark swathe of grey a little gentler, a little more beautiful. We laid flowers from the garden atop the petal-specked grey, remembering my Nana’s love of her garden, as well as celebrating that we could bring her something lovely from ours.
WonderAunty read out a beautiful Irish blessing, commending the comings and goings of life to a God believed to have our best interests in mind, who cares enough to notice each to and fro, of geography or of heart.
We took photos of the site, trying to frame it beautifully whilst missing out the macabre brick chimneys of the crematorium itself, and calling to one another over the traffic noise of the nearby motorway. We want to recall where it is, to visit in future, and eventually find ourselves returned to dust in a family pile, under the cone-bedecked limbs and patchy skies.
We murmured our last goodbyes to her physical remains, and I wondered whether we had really said our goodbyes to her in spirit, or whether (as it always had done) the memory of her presence would continue sufficient to provoke a response. I quietly suspect there will be Nana-related tangles to navigate in future, for she has already proven in death (as in life) to be able to complicate matters.
Her legacy may yet prove to be fond memories underscored with exasperation.
It set me thinking about what I’m going to leave behind.
Materialistically, not a lot. My Biggest Best, is an original painting by a Devonshire artist, which I fell in love with and have never once regretted splashing out on. It is bright and glorious (and glittery) and brings joy to the heart. All else is piecemeal: books, jewellery which is worthless, but priceless to me because of who gave it, more books, clothes which can return to the charity shops from whence they came, the component parts for glitterbombs, a folder of DVDs, and my laptop…which contains perhaps the most understated treasure – things I’ve written.
I don’t even know where I’m going to die. I mean, I know none of us do, but with my hoped-for move to America, I wonder whether someday in future, Niece and Neff will be the astonished recipients of money left in a will by an aunty who died too distantly to be known or really mourned. They’ll get to live one of my childhood dreams (I didn’t want anyone I loved to die, but I was immensely fond of the idea of inheriting money from a mystery relative I’d never known and could therefore never miss – a kid’s fanciful quick-fix to low-income life, perhaps), and I rather like that idea.
I wonder whether my ashes will be scattered in an unknown corner of the New World, expatriated and excluded from their piece under the pine tree, mixed with forbears. I wonder whether, by the end of my life, I will have come full circle back to the temperate climate and tempestuous history of England. I wonder whether, when my turn comes to die, the family will have turned a different corner with the younger generation and become unrecognisable, or whether the qualities and values which seem so steeped in Now-us, will have taken root in new hearts and psyches, and will continue.
Unless something remarkable happens, I suspect Maya Angelou’s wisdom on becoming ‘passed’ will befit me – no-one will remember what I looked like, what I said, or what I did. It won’t matter if I spent my life trying to feel thin enough to not feel Less Than. It will make no difference whether I made a habit of over-indulgence. The things I achieved will have disappeared under piles of more recent, more relevant history. Moments and places shared will have altered beyond recognition. My words will have drifted on tides of time and become lost in the molecules of the universe, and the places where I’ve written will gather cobwebs from tiny bit-spyders, and eventually some joker might consider it amusing to trace their finger through the dust of my thoughts “01001100 01101001 01111010 01111010 01101001 00100000 01110111 01100001 01110011 00100000 01101000 01100101 01110010 01100101”.
I should pay heed to the latter part of Angelou’s words, though – that people will remember how I made them feel.
They might treasure the ways I made them feel loved, special, important, cared about. They will recall if they felt respected, admired, encouraged. They might retain memories of warmth, brightness, cosiness, and being comfortable with me. I hope so, but the inverse also applies. I must beware the ways they might brood over slights, neglects, abandonments; their recollections of lies, let-downs, or ill-treatment. I must consider that they might brood over ways they feel I did them wrong, upset, or angered them.
I don’t want people to remember me with bitterness, and I would like them to remember me as someone they experienced as kind and loving. It seems too simplistic to intimate that in this case I should alter my behaviour in order to only give others the very best of me, for all common wisdom speaks to how it’s impossible to please everyone, and disingenuous to try.
What matters to me most, in the end, is love.
Love is all the things I hoped it would be, when it’s done right, even though I hold myself as no kind of paragon of getting it right. It is patient, kind, gentle, generous, warm-spirited, helpful, humble. It honours, it rejoices in good, it is truthful and hope-filled. It perseveres beyond anything we could think possible, and gets passed down in legends, inspiring countless generations to seek its glories and imbue their hearts with its light. It is one of the most basic human emotions and simultaneously is the pinnacle of them all.
Love, now I’ve learned HOW to express it, to appreciate it, and am in the process of honing it, is WONDERFUL. Heartbreaking, sometimes, but wonderful. Something which drives me to distraction, to despair, to the brink, but something I would never want to be without, for even on my darkest days and in my worst relationships, it somehow, somewhere, finds something to redeem.
I have people around me who live (or try to live) and love this way. I’m so fortunate to have their example, their role-modelling, and their love, to experience first-hand how glorious it is to be on the receiving end of it. I’m thankful for their encouragement, their support, and their advice, as I try to learn to live in a manner which I feel best suits me – a manner which acts towards others with love, and leaves them feeling glad they know me.
And so in order to leave a legacy I’m happy with, I shall have to learn how to treat people – all people – through a mindset of loving-kindness. Through deciding that whatever their behaviour towards me, my response will be chosen according to my principles rather than reactive emotions. I will need to learn to watch myself ‘behind closed doors’, in order to maintain integrity.
I need to learn more about boundaries, respect for individuality, dignity, personality. I need to learn to keep myself safe, establish clear mental parameters, set limits, love safely.
I shall have to learn better consistency, diplomacy, intimacy. I want to learn how to make people feel worthwhile, valued, cherished. I want to get better at taking others into consideration, at understanding where they’re coming from, at dismissing the ‘trappings’ and seeing through to the heart of the matter – to what matters.
I need to learn to love myself, as I am, in the same way I would expect to love others as they are, but with always a hope for improvement and the knowledge there is room for it.
It sounds like a massive undertaking, but so worthwhile. I’m learning and practicing every new day, and I hope I shall have many more years to get it right, though I readily acknowledge I’ll probably continue to get it wrong a lot of the time.
But I’m determined to try – it would be *wonderful* to be remembered for love.
What would you like to be remembered for? Have you ever wondered about life, whilst commemorating its passing? Who makes you thankful to be alive and learning? Join in with the Ten Things of Thankful hop, or Finish the Sentence Friday, which this week looks at ‘legacy’.