How do you define the measure of a life? Having just spent the last month cleaning out my mother’s home of 50 years, (she died on April 11, 2013), I came across a lot of her memories. In this photo, she’s shown on her wedding day in June, 1949, when she married my father. They look all starry eyed and full of promise. Having read some of her letters to him while he was in med school, she wrote over and over, all she wanted to do was to please him and be a good wife. My brother, sister, and I came along, and then in 1959, he died of a heart attack. leaving her after only 10 years. The depth of her despair and the new world of taking care of a family by herself that she quickly had to undertake became apparent as I went through her things as we cleaned out her house.
I asked myself a lot of questions as I was loading things up, some to keep and a lot to take to Good Will. There was still the shock of her death and the relief that the pancreatic cancer had taken over quickly enough that she really only suffered for nine days. What was important to her? What did she do with her time, as it had been 11 years since my stepfather died? There was also the reality of my own mortality staring me in my face, as she was only 22 when she had me.
I’ve asked a number of friends as to how they would measure a life, and I got answers all over the map. I think that the consensus was that it’s those of us who are left behind that want the reassurance that our loved one “lived a good and full life”. Obviously, once you’re dead, it really doesn’t matter to that person. On my mother’s last day in the nursing home, as I sat by her side, many of the staff members who had worked with her came in to say goodbye. Over and over I heard that my brother, sister, and I she felt were her biggest accomplishments. That was comforting to hear (and I already knew) how much my mother loved us all. However, for myself, who has no children (except for the 3,000+ that I taught over the years), what am I leaving behind? Do I need to leave anything behind? Do I have to justify the space and resources that I’ve used up on this planet? As you can see, I have many questions to mull over as I come to terms with my mother’s death. Perhaps some answers will follow on these pages.
What criteria would you use to measure a life? Does a life have to even be measured? I’d love to hear your answers, and I imagine that they are others in the community who have experienced loss who would be interested also.
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