I had the honor today of joining loved ones to bid adieux to a pretty amazing Real Woman. My Aunt was 87 when she passed, and heaven is lucky to have her now — even though we weren’t ready to give her up.
Really, that is what grieving is all about. Even for lives long-lived, death still comes as a shock. We want to keep everyone here with us, and we don’t want to let them go, even if they feel ready to move on themselves. But, as the song reminds us, such is the Circle of Life, and we have to let go at some point, pray that they are headed to some place wonderful, and cling to the memories they leave behind.
As I move into my mid-years, and experience the loss of older loved ones, I’ve learned a few lessons that we Real Women should consider…. these are simple steps we can take now, while we are healthy, alive and perky, to help our younger generations – our kids, grandkids, nephews, nieces, friends – be able to cope better when it is our time to move on.
- Say Cheese: We real women tend to be shy in front of a camera. We see someone hold up a camera and we duck out of the way, or say “ugh, no, I look awful!”. We only oblige when we can primp and pose, or be in total control with selfies. We need to stop that. Let ourselves be photo’d while interacting with others, doing simple daily life events, participating in our favorite activities – because these are the images others will cherish in the future. I saw some of the most adorable, fun photos of my Aunt today, they made us both smile and cry – but in a good way. I have a scrapbook I work on from time to time with photos of my mom. My favorite images of her show her doing things like setting up a picnic for us kids, going bird-watching with binoculars around her neck, or skiing over mounds of snow in the backyard. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many of those – classic mom, she was behind the camera more than in front of it. We all need to step around to the front of the lens more often…Who cares if you don’t have on any makeup, or are in your dirtiest jeans and sweatshirt? Some of those real life images are what others will love the most because they will remind them of the real you.
- Tell Stories: We have to remember to share the goofy stories of our past experiences with the younger generation… better yet, write them down or do audio recordings. Talk about our childhoods, or siblings, how we met our spouses, any traveling we did, or jobs we’ve had. I realized too late in life that I should have been paying more attention when my Mom and Dad, grandparents, or my Aunts and Uncles would start talking about their life experiences. I started writing some of my Dad’s stories down, but I wish I had started much sooner. Those tales are literally living history – and once the storyteller is gone, so are those legends.
- Leave a Trail: Got a special piece of jewelry that you inherited from your grandmother? Or a fabulous portrait of you with your BFF’s? How about a beautiful vase you bought on your trip to Europe? We can’t assume that those who may some day inherit these artifacts will remember the history of them, or recognize faces or places. Jot down brief notes to either go on the back of the items, or in a file. My mother was pretty good at this – I have some clue, thanks to her quick notes, about the history on some of the things I now have, and it makes them even more special to me. I know that a pendant I have was given to my grandmother from grandpa when he bought it for her in Switzerland. An oil painting portrait of an ancestor had a very handy note taped to the back explaining who the painted man was, and how we are related. On the flip side, my cousin and I tried to decipher some engraved initials on pieces of silver they found in her mom’s possessions. We have no clue who’s initials they are, or the story of their existence. I have several other family pieces that are equally cloaked in mystery. Let’s not leave too many mysteries for our kids. And one more tip? Handwrite some of the notes. You know, with an actual pen and paper. It is remarkable how much seeing someone’s handwriting can bring back fond memories.
- Stay in Touch: On one hand, this step has become increasingly difficult, yet on the other, it has gotten easier. We live in a world where our relatives have gotten more and more geographically spread out, living all across the country, maybe even overseas. The days of the whole family staying in the same town, or even the same state, are dwindling. We all get busy with our lives, and our immediate families. We rarely all gather in one place on a regular basis. We start to lose touch, and literally go years without seeing each other in person, gathering only for weddings or funerals. However, behold modern day technology – we have so many ways now to reconnect, at least virtually. Email, FaceBook, Instagram – you name it, we can find each other and share photos, updates and just friendly hello’s. We can’t forget the importance of family; these are the people we reach out to for comfort and understanding when needed.
- Be Memorable: Good news, this is the easiest step of all. Sure, many of us would like to leave some remarkable legacy for future generations – like a successful business, a legendary invention, celebrity status, or maybe even author a best-selling book. But in reality, those things really aren’t that important…which is a good thing, because they are not attainable for most of us. Our legacy is who we are, how we act, our personalities, our appreciation and love for others in our lives. Not only do these traits move on through heredity (we know we all at some point start to look or act like our moms), but they are what stick in our heads forever about those who have passed. My mom passed away over 20 years ago, but I still have friends who will from time to time share a memory of her with me, simply because she was a memorable woman in their lives. The same goes for my Aunt who we honored today. She is indelibly in our heads and hearts – not necessarily for her life accomplishments, but for her humor, her character, he energy, and her unique outlooks on life.
We all would like to be here on this earth pretty much forever to keep experiencing all life has to offer….but it just doesn’t work that way. Instead, we have to squeeze all the experiences we can out of the time we have, and make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share our time.
How incredible will it be to know that many years from now, somewhere in the future, the generations who follow us will share stories, memories, love and laughter about each of us?
That’s a legacy I know I can be happy with.