A parent's legacy

In honor of my mom, who passed from this life to the next on Tuesday, July 5th, I'm reprinting an essay I wrote for her in October of 2008. Family photo from Christmas 2009. On couch, L to R: Bobby, me, Tim, Mom, Dad. On floor: Katie, Anna, Reilly, Kerry, Doug, and Luke (in front).

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine…

(from Mercy Me’s “I Can Only Imagine”)

In my mind, envisioning heaven is not the hard part. The hardest part, I suspect, when thinking about dying, is leaving behind those you love. Feeling like you might be missing out on their lives. And thinking maybe you didn’t make enough of a difference, that maybe you won’t be missed after all. Maybe you aren’t necessary.

Since Mom was diagnosed with cancer, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of her legacy. What will remain when she’s not physically here. I can’t ease her fears, erase her sadness, or give a good reason why this had to happen to her. But I can promise her this: no matter what happens, her presence in my life will never be diminished. Do I want her here forever? Absolutely. But even when she is not, I will know what she thinks about things and what she would tell me to do. I will continue to want to buy her quirky gifts that are just perfect, that no one else would appreciate the way she does. And I will continue to enjoy the houseful of peculiar objects she’s given me over the years, knowing better than anyone else what I would love and what pleasure I get from things others would think are strange. I will cook from the recipes she wrote down for me when I went to college – and when I don’t, I’ll remember all the times I tried to avoid letting her know we were going out to eat yet again when we really should have been saving our money and watching our waistlines. I will see her reactions in my own reactions to situations. I will laugh, knowing what she would find funny, wishing I could call and tell her. I will notice the things in this world that are unjust, the people she would want to take under her wing and help in her own unique, thoughtful ways, and I will want to pick up where she left off. My kids will talk about her, just as they talk about my grandfather, who died before they were born. He’s not here, but he left a legacy of love and education and they admire him tremendously. They know him, even though they didn’t get to meet him.

A couple years ago, when my friend Nancy lost her dad, I wrote this to her: “You will always be your father’s daughter, and you can still give thanks for that every day of your life. He helped make you who you are, and because of that, he will never be gone. I’m glad to know you and to know a little of your dad through you.” Until the moment I wrote that, I hadn’t known that to be true. But it is. As long as I live, people will see my mother. Most women vehemently deny that they are anything like their mothers, but we know every one of the ways in which we are (even if we won’t admit it to our husbands). I never thought I'd say this, but I’m one of the lucky ones who can be proud of those things.

When Jesus was preparing to leave this earth, He didn’t want to suffer, but He knew there would be comfort for those He left behind. He knew He would always live inside the hearts of those who remained, both in those who walked beside Him on those dusty roads and those who would not be born for 2,000 years. He’s not gone, nor is He forgotten. We don’t see His physical body, but He remains visible (or should) through all of His children, all those who allow His wonderful traits to show in their lives. As long as we are present, all those around us will see and remember our Lord — seeing a little bit of Him in the way we talk, the things that make us smile, our mannerisms, our expressions, the way we love each other. They can know Him, because they know us.

I know that nothing will be the same without my mom here, and I’m hoping and praying for many, many more months with her. My heart is already broken — but our several-times-daily phone calls and spontaneous lunches and shopping trips are currently holding it together. But when that day comes, when my mom is face to face with the One who will remove all her sorrow and pain and sadness, when she is basking in the light, overcome with joy, not remembering that she had doubts about what it would be like, no longer caring about the questions she always thought she’d ask, experiencing an intensity of sweetness exponentially greater than the most amazing moments we’ve had with God here on this earth… on that day I will stand proud, holding onto the things she has made me, holding on to the parts of her that I want the world to continue to see… praying that God will shine through me, but knowing that when He does, He will also let those parts that are her remain. With Him, in Him, and in me. A part of me, forevermore.