Monday, 29 November 2010

What's in a Legacy: Lessons from my Grandma

A friend once expressed concern about her young daughter: Was she attending the right school?  Was she making appropriate friends? Were her extra-curricular activities the sort that would nurture her greatness?  “After all,” said she, “our children are our legacy.”

Her comment got me thinking - are our children our legacy? Do we need to fret about the type of people they may become?  Are we judged by their accomplishments (or misdeeds)?  And when we’re gone will we be remembered for our progeny or for our selves?   Personally, I believe the only legacy we leave behind is the one we create for ourselves, about ourselves. 

I don’t wish to dishearten those of you who are hoping to ride triumphantly into the sunset on the coat tails of your very successful and wonderful kids, but it does seem an awful burden to hand to one’s offspring – “Make something of yourself or I’ll be nothing!” And what about those folks who don’t become parents?

You need only attend a funeral to know what I mean.  Take my 92 year-old Grandma who passed away at the beginning of November.  She was mother to five children (including my mom), and while this is a wonderful accomplishment, it’s definitely not what she will be remembered for.  As was said so eloquently at her funeral:

She crossed continents like states and conquered all before her.
As she conquered me.
I loved her innate vibrance, her enthusiasm, her kindness in its simplicity.
You knew she meant it.
It was a rare charisma of wisdom and equilibrium.
And she rocked.

I too will remember her for all of the above, plus her bottomless appetite for seafood, her great love of hunting for stylish bargains at the thrift shops (charity shops to you Brits) and the evenings we spent playing Scrabble or going to the local casino to try our luck at the penny slots. Her legacy is her own -100%. 

So what is our responsibility to our kids? I like the very achievable guidance of DW Winnicott – just be a “good-enough mother”(or parent as it were).  It’s all about loving the child for who he or she is and not attempting to mould them into anything other than their best, natural selves.  Give them choices and options, but let them choose - then get out of the way.  Simple. 

That was one of my Grandma’s best qualities in fact.  She could spot the good in anyone and “forgive their trespasses” with seeming ease.  She knew that we sometimes make bad choices and she allowed them knowing we often learn far more from our mistakes than our triumphs.

At present I am exactly half my Grandma’s age and counting on many more years to work on my own legacy.  Who knows what it will be?  What I do know is this: The only important thing I will leave behind is the way in which I share myself with the world - be it for good or for ill.  (Kids, you’re off the hook.)  Whether one makes an impact within a family, a community,  a country or the whole world,  it’s the only legacy that counts.  And thankfully, it’s quite enough.