When his obituary appeared prematurely in the press, Mark Twain remarked: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” In the last weeks a number of deaths of celebrities have been falsely reported. Nothing but fame seems to connect the individuals whose erroneously reported demise has set the twittering classes tweeting.
First I read on the internet that Michael Moore had died. I was dismayed at the loss of this useful member of society and great campaigner, and relieved next day when I discovered the report was false; he has a lot more to contribute. Since then similar hoaxes have appeared about Tatum Channing, Stephen Hawking and a spate of others. One is mystified by the motives of such rumor mongers.
The only upside to this nonsense is that the subjects of premature obituaries are afforded a brief insight to the public’s opinion. I often regret that accolades are broadcast following the death of people, prominent or otherwise, who were perhaps unaware during their lifetime of the admiration they attracted.
This set me wondering (and you too, presumably) what people will say about us when we’re gone. Much depends on our expectations and proclivities. What is your raison d’etre? Are you more concerned about aspirations or achievements, appearance or character, wealth or fame, inheritance or legacy? Do you make your own opportunities, or seize the ones that are presented? Do you let chances go by for lack of energy or application? Do you aspire to make a difference?
Unlike Mother Theresa, few of us die knowing we’ve done our utmost for humanity. What impressed me most about Mother Theresa was that she often doubted the existence of God, yet she threw herself heroically into her work.
Some people might be offended by the description “She made the most of her small talents,” but I would be delighted. Big talents are rare, but it’s good to acknowledge the small ones we have. What are your talents?
I was born with a huge advantage: two parents who loved me unconditionally. That did much to smooth my path through life. I had my share of challenging life events, sometimes rocked to the core, but the conviction that my parents loved me endured long after they were gone.
Always one to cross my bridges before I came to them, in my teens I speculated that one day I would lie on my deathbed and I did not want to look back with regret or shame; not wanting to embarrass myself provided a moral compass far more powerful than any “Thou Shalt Not.”
I hope people will recall that although I was a loving mother, I did not interfere with my sons’ choices of careers or partners. My advice was simple: “Work is a lifetime’s activity, so enjoy it. Find something you like doing and get someone to pay you for it. In the choice of a partner, make yourself happy and find a happy person with whom to share your life. It’s not their responsibility to make you happy, or yours to fix them.” Even when I was discomforted by their choices I respected their right to choose without interference.
Creativity always drove me, even though my skills were modest. As a child I made playhouses in the garden with an old blanket draped over a clothes horse; later this became an urge to play houses which I enjoy to this day. I’ve bought thirteen houses over fifty years and never regarded any of them as permanent. I last moved 14 months ago and at 75 I still enjoyed arranging the furniture in a new home and adapting curtains to fit the windows. I establish the same systems everywhere I live, with comfort as the first priority. In every garden I plant herbs, spring bulbs and rhubarb.
In my teens I learned to sew and made my clothes (and my children’s) for decades at a fraction of the cost of buying them. Later I moved on to patchwork and appliqué. I find sewing therapeutic and it’s rewarding to produce something beautiful. Dozens of individual pieces hang in my family’s houses around the world, or cover their beds.
When I’m gone I do not want my loved ones to wonder if I loved them; they can take it for granted. I want my sons to pass on this love to their children.
My aim was to raise my children to be the sort of people I wanted for friends, and they are. I hoped they would have the confidence and courage to make up their own minds about any moral dilemma they might face. I alerted them to women’s rights and tolerance of homosexuality. In the matter of politics I influenced them to be liberal and considerate towards the deprived. As to religion I told them “I think there is a God but I can’t tell you definitively; you will have to make up your own minds.” There are no bigots in my family. The self-proclaimed atheist is as moral as any of them.
I wish I had traveled more but while limited by time and money, I seized every opportunity and was lucky enough to visit twenty countries. Travel is a great way to understand humanity and others’ points of view. I traveled with my senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. I’m glad that I learned Spanish and French to enhance these experiences.
I wish I had contributed more to society. My horizons were smaller than they should have been. I would still correct that if I knew how.
I won’t leave any jewelry. Nobody need go to Jared’s on my behalf. I don’t need status symbols. A car is a vehicle and my 2005 Ford works just fine. I don’t need to be remembered for granite worktops, six inch heels or curb appeal. I don’t own a single designer label and that is not for want of money. A lifetime of playing with houses left me comfortable.
When it comes to achievement, most of my energies went into raising my children. I’m pleased that I captured my life in a memoir for my descendants and I’m a little proud of my two books. The other one is a collection of jokes. Most of all, I’d like to be remembered for my sense of humor and a tender heart.
What’s your legacy?