This post is not about death, although it may seem that way. It’s about the legacy that you might leave behind if today were your last day.
I have a “fear of death” and it is something that I’ve thought about more actively since having kids. Personally, I am not afraid of dying because if I were to leave tomorrow, I could honestly say that I have lived a relatively full life. What I am afraid of is leaving my children with a sadness that no child should ever have to endure, or with no memory of the good times we had together. As morbid as this seems, the fact is that as an older mom, I’m statistically more likely to die than my younger counterparts – my chances of developing some sort of illness or health-related condition are higher than moms with young kids who are a decade younger than I am.
I recently found about a classmate who passed away of cancer and another who was in a car accident. I keep thinking that if fate were redirected, that could have been me. While they both had older (high school age) kids who might be able to better understand that Mom isn’t coming back, the sorrow is still and always will be there for their kids. At the same time, a coworker of mine told me about her sister who passed away when her sister’s kids were 4 and 6. She told me that the one thing that both kids remember is the depth of sadness that they experienced, even though her nephew (now in college) only has some vague recollections of his mom, while her niece (just graduated from high school) has almost none. I myself only have selective memories of being anything less than 7 years old – the memories that have stuck in my mind are of the times that were wonderful (Disneyworld) or terrible (getting stitches in my chin).
This leads me to wonder what type of legacy I would leave for my children. If today were my last day, what would my 5 year olds remember of me? Would they remember our crazy dance parties? Or that Mommy loves to sing; sometimes making up silly words? Would they remember that every night before bedtime, we sit down in the dark and talk about their day? Would they remember how much effort I put into making their macaroni extra creamy, or their chocolate chip pancakes extra buttery and crunchy? And that sometimes if they’re super good (or cute), I’ll sneak them a little treat after dinner with the whispered warning of “don’t tell Dad?” Will they still giggle at the mental picture of both Mommy and the bathroom drenched after their bath because we had such fun splashing around?
I have long taken care of all of the RESPONSIBLE things that we should do to protect our children if we were to die – both my husband and I have created a will and named surviving guardians, we have revisited the beneficiaries on all of our assets, and we have revamped our individual life insurance policies. And while I can rest easy that my children will be taken care of if anything were to happen, these are just vehicles to adulthood. They are not the memories that our children should carry with them.
And so, I have shifted the way that I interact with my kids because if anything were to happen to me, I want their memories to be full of the things that make them realize that they forever hold a special place in my heart. I have stopped saying “in a minute,” or “Mommy’s busy.” I have stopped obsessing about dilly-dallying; instead, starting things about 10 minutes earlier than I normally would (so that we can get to places on time). I now turn my head away when the kids bring dirt into the house because, after all, kids SHOULD be dirty. And I think twice about being too strict if it really doesn’t matter (because I do admit that I have a tendency to be strict). At the end of it all, I hope that my legacy will leave a smile in the hearts of my children, because I forever want to be remembered as “Mommy.”