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I attended a funeral this past week. A friend of my mother’s from her childhood had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away, leaving behind two not-quite-grown children and a devastated husband.

Dee Dee was a quiet force of nature. I remember her from the very beginning of my memories, from those fuzzy edges when I was very small up until the more clear thoughts of today. I loved her. She had a pet skunk for a time, I remember, named Mandy. I wanted a skunk for the longest time after that and didn’t understand why my mother didn’t think that was a good idea. She always had animals, which made me an instant fan.

Her mother was my godmother, my Nina. I still have the cross necklace with a diamond chip in the middle that she gave me on my baptism day when I was just a few weeks old. They lived just down the street from us and it was there where I got to know Dee Dee’s three sisters, who fussed over me, and where I got my first delicious taste of lobster dipped in melted butter. (There is dispute over that. I remember them saying it was lobster, my mother said it was crab. Either way, the experience is etched in my memory.) Her family had been a refuge for my mother when she was pregnant with me as a teenager, loving her as their own, and they have always been in contact.

As I mentioned, she died rather suddenly, without warning, at only sixty years old. Sixty is young these days and although she did have some health issues, no one expected her to be gone so soon.

I met my mother at the service, held at a local funeral home. It was already quite full of people when I arrived, about an hour before the service began, but as the time drew nearer, more and more people poured in, leaving the staff to hurry and add many more rows of chairs. If I had to estimate, I would say that there were around 150 people crammed into that small room.

The priest began the service by welcoming everyone and asking Dee Dee’s son, and then her husband to speak. My heart broke for this strapping young man, set to graduate from college soon, as he choked back tears and referred to his mother as his best friend. Her husband, the shock still evident in his voice, told the room how there was not one single bad thing about her in the many years that they had been together.

The floor was opened to other people who wanted to share their memories of Dee Dee. It was touching and beautiful to hear from so many people, at least twenty, who got up and had a story to tell. Some were poignant, some were funny (the Sam’s Club Cheetos story had everyone laughing), and some were sad. For most of her adult life, Dee Dee had worked for a company that helps people who have disabilities and many of her current and former coworkers filled the room. I was moved by the stories of her selflessness, her patience, and her apparent love for her vocation, a calling she had always had. It didn’t surprise me at all. I remember when she had adopted a young boy with severe disabilities back when she was in her twenties, before she was married or had her biological children. Meeting him was my first experience with someone disabled to that degree and I remembered how patient she was with him. She taught me through her actions to not be afraid of people with disabilities, that they want to be loved and accepted like everyone does. I’ll always be grateful to her for that lesson.

The service lasted for more that an hour and a half as people shared their love for Dee Dee. In her short sixty years, she had touched so many lives, probably more than she ever thought. I’m sure she would have been embarrassed by all of the outpouring of emotion, she wasn’t one to toot her own horn, always working quietly in the background for the good of others. After the priest made sure that everyone was finished sharing, her daughter read from Ecclesiastes and her husband thanked everyone for coming. In closing, we all held hands and said the Lord’s Prayer together, then listened to one of her favorite songs.

When the service was over, my heart was full. The world is a scary place and these days, watching the news often makes me feel as if nothing will ever be right again, that hate, discrimination, and willful ignorance have taken over the world. Just read the comment section of any article to see some scary people. (Or don’t. Really, it’s horrifying to see what some people post online.) It’s hard for me to understand how people can be so awful to each other, or how terrible things are condoned or ignored because of money, religion, or politics. It makes me sick to my stomach sometimes. Hearing all of the wonderful things said about Dee Dee. though, reminded me that there are good people in this world, that things like love, patience, and understanding still do exist, even if they are hard to see through the haze right now.

Yes, I’m sure that Dee Dee would have been embarrassed about all of the fuss made over her, but what a legacy she has left behind! Think about it. We’re all going to die someday, whether our lives are short or long, whether we know it’s coming or, like Dee Dee, it takes us by surprise. There’s nothing we can do to prevent it, though we try to put it off as long as possible. What we can do, though, is choose to live so that we leave some good in the world when we’re gone and, hopefully, inspire others to do the same. We can stand up for what is right, we can help in a million ways, we can love. Yes, indeed, we can love.

We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to mess up sometimes. It’s human nature that prevents us from being perfect, that lets our masks slip now and again. But I firmly believe that the more we do the right thing, especially when it’s difficult, the easier it becomes. I also believe that when we own up to our mistakes and admit that we made a bad choice rather then blaming it on someone else or circumstances, we earn the respect of others and we grow as people. It’s not the easy way of doing things and it’s hard to bite that bullet sometimes, but it’s so necessary.

We need more Dee Dees in the world. We need more of that patience and understanding that she lived every single day. We need to accept people as they are, the way she did, and to protect those who don’t have a voice. We need to be good people.

So, I challenge you. I challenge you to open your mind, to open your heart, and to deliberately do something different today that will benefit those around you. It doesn’t have to be huge, it can be as simple as opening the door for someone when you normally wouldn’t. It can be letting someone go ahead of you in line. Instead of getting angry at another driver, take a deep breath and let it go. (I especially need to practice this one. I say a lot of bad words in my car.) The point is, the world isn’t going to get better if we sit back and wait for other people to do it. It begins with us. It begins with you.

I’m closing with part of Lin Manuel Miranda’s speech from the 2016 Tony Awards. I feel that it is appropriate here.

“We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.”

Dee Dee loved, with her whole heart. It’s a goal to work toward.

 

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