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What Can I Leave Behind?
The year, which started off well, took a sour turn after the summer. After a tooth infection, severe heart pain and sleep paralysis and sleepless nights, I found myself struggling through the rest of 2016 with the few breaths I had left. Between my dad getting sick and hustling for a job as a freelancer, I did a pretty good job of pretending everything was fine; No one suspects.
But inside was a different story. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did.
I found out in early December that my grandfather was dying.
The news was not shocking. My grandfather, who enjoyed a prosperous 90-year life, had shriveled up to a skeleton withered in the last decade. What remains now is the silhouette of a man who leaves his hometown and migrates to a different part of the world in search of a better life for himself and his bride; A feat of bravery and courage. When I last saw him six months ago, I was surprised and fond; Sitting in front of me was a frail man who didn’t remember me, yet smiled and patted me on the back with bone-trembling fingers. The grandfather who once made me cry with the best stories is no more; He was now a man dissolving faster than ever and surrendering to thin air.
It is not easy to watch a grandparent die, but having been through it, I now understand that death is easier than a life lived in pain and suffering. The hard part, on the other hand, is watching your parents fall apart as they brace themselves for that life-changing phone call. My mother, from whom I inherited my sensitive side, is a woman easily affected by anger, sadness and passion. Her emotions peak and crash with the gentlest currents, and though they are mostly unjust and unreasonable, her tears always fill my heart with sorrow. But to comfort her, I have to play the role of being strong, a rock and a support system when I’m breaking down inside because there’s nothing worse than seeing your parents cry.
But what if death is not the only fact of life we cannot avoid, but the most we face? With its grip, death comes upon us all, our parents, our children, our friends, and finally ourselves. And it’s only for a few days when we get that terrible phone call or say our last goodbyes in a dark hospital room, even if only for a few days as we prepare for the funeral and receive hundreds of empty condolences.
Do we really live when doom creeps up on us from the moment we are thrust into the world? I spent the remaining few weeks of the year contemplating my existence; How long will I sit around looking for joy in a paycheck, a busy Sunday morning, or a growing pile of business cards? Like every other human being on earth, I want to leave a legacy, but after much thought I realized that this may not be my purpose in life.
So why feel the need to hold something tangible back? Our name, the business empire, the boy with the treasured collection? After all, wouldn’t everything be handed to strangers when you’re six feet down? Why don’t we choose to give up gentle words, kindness and love?
Concepts of inheritance are misconceived and filled with pride, ego and greed. Like our flesh and blood, money and big houses decay and disintegrate, and what’s left are memories and stories. My grandfather came from a poor family with only money. However, the story of how he made a life in a country where he didn’t speak the language or understand the culture will live on. His kindness to strangers and generosity to his neighbors exemplify the values of his community and region. I have often heard stories of his grace and goodness from complete strangers.
So is he aware of the shadows of death? Is he welcoming it? Having lived such a life, I believe he is. I tell my mother that for a few moments the roles of mother and daughter are reversed as I hug her tightly to my chest. I talk about his gentle smile and the way he graciously gave it to everyone who crossed his path. I talk about the way I spend every afternoon immersed in his books, his fingers scanning the pages, and how he always has new knowledge. I remind her how he spread his wealth when he had nothing.
And so, dear death, I see you lurking in the corner. We are not afraid of you because you can never take away the most valuable thing my grandfather left behind and that is one’s legacy is not in bank accounts but in good deeds.
“Engrave your name on hearts, not on tombstones. A legacy is etched in the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” – Shannon L Alder
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