I started thinking about this post in specific while I was doing some project close out tasks. For those of you who have never had the pleasure, project close out involves dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s. You document everything. Why you made a decision, why you didn’t, who agreed and who didn’t. The theory says you retain this information, so that if someone needs to understand the context or revisit the issue they don’t have to do all of the same work again.
It turns out, at least in a project, you are never really gone. I was looking at issues from 3 years ago; hunting people down, asking questions and requiring that they dig deep in their memory, think about things that have not seen the light of day in almost a lifetime.
While I was doing this, I was thinking of what we leave behind. When I die I will be gone in a way that someone with children can never be. When Mr. Spit and I are gone, our son will be gone as well. There were only a few people in that room, and when we are gone, Gabriel will be gone in a final way as well.
As I read the project documents, closing things out, I sometimes get a sense of what might have been contentious. I get a sense of what decisions came easily and the ones that inspired angst. I have been thinking about this as I think about what will happen when I die.
Someone will come into my home and pack up my things. We do not know what we will do with our estate, often joking we will leave our worldly wealth to a home for unwed cats. Someone will sort and pack, picking and choosing what is sold, what is thrown out. Like all hindsight decisions, I shudder to think at the image they will receive. Why did she keep a lemon juicer so covered in dust? She had a secret addiction to microwave popcorn judging by the cases in the basement. Did she never buy new underwear?
You could live your life imagining what would happen if you died tomorrow and strangers came into your house. When my Father in Law died, there were discoveries. Nothing salacious or even inappropriate, but things that are best understood through the lens of those that are related to us; those that have a shared history, shared memory. Those people can balance the strange with the memory of normal.
I think of the practical and the mundane and of larger, more existential questions when I think of my death. I wonder what will become of my things – the everyday items and those that are precious. I worry about the conflation of the two; the ratty old apron on a hook. I never wear it, but it was my grandmother’s. I wonder about the precious things, the four sets of china. I feel a responsibility to provide for my things in the way that others might provide for their children. I have an insurance policy that provides money for the care of my pets.
I wonder too, when I am gone, what will remain of me? The things that I hold to be precious, important and worth carrying on. The things I would have taught my children, and indeed the things that I have learned for the short time we travelled together.
Who will I teach about afternoon tea and pass on the history of my grandmother’s cucumber sandwiches? I look at my friends and the children around me, and the stories, the lessons and the essence of what I think really matters and I wonder: do I make a list?
Do I teach one of my nieces about afternoon tea and the sorts of purses and shoes a lady wears? Do I tell another who is more academic about my mother and her nursing degree, taken because my Grandfather would not pay for law school for a woman?
Most of this sort of learning is inspired and not planned. A teachable moment comes up, you seize it and it passes on. Maybe something stuck and maybe something didn’t. Life’s lessons bear repeating.
I have thought about endowing something. Leaving a memorial fund, creating a foundation. The problem with that is that it does not actually leave anything of mine save my name and my money. We could skip on the name and just use the money toward something that already needs help. Does it not make more sense to endow an existing scholarship than create a new one?
I know I promised you answers. Well, in hindsight, I promised you questions, and I said that good questions would lead to good answers. The PM in me, the mother in me, the wife in me, the person in me believes this too.
I have no answers. I do not know if this is because sometimes the answers take time or if my questions are not good enough, not yet. I am curious though, do you feel a need to leave a legacy other than your children? How do you do that? What matters to you in your legacy?