I was warming up and hitting golf balls at the driving range when I got the news.
My mother had died.
When I saw an incoming call from my aunt that I seldomly speak to my heart had a sinking feeling. I somehow knew that once I answered the call my world would be dramatically changed forever.
I had tried to call my mother the day before but did not get an answer. She almost always returned my calls within the hour, yet this time she did not. I was calling to remind her that we were heading out on a quick spring break getaway vacation. Headed down to San Antonio to stay at one of our favorite resorts, play golf, visit Sea World, and enjoy some time with our 5 year old son.
We had been at the resort for less than 18 hours when I got the call. We packed our things and headed straight home. The five hour drive home seemed surreal. Time was a blur as the shock of the news settled on my soul.
Mom was gone.
The medical examiner said she passed peacefully in her sleep. Resting in her easy chair. That news brought a small sense of comfort.
By the time we made it back to town my aunts and several cousins had met at mom’s house to start organizing her things to try and make the arduous task ahead for my sister and I a bit more bearable. We held each other, told stories about mom, and all believed we would have more time with her.
Life is precious. And time is fleeting.
I had never lost a parent before. Beyond the emotional toil I had no idea what to do. I was designated as the executor of her estate and felt incredibly unprepared. I searched the internet for terms like, “What to do when someone dies.” I read articles that were filled with details and checklists. Thank you to AARP for a particularly helpful article.
The next two weeks were consumed with so many of the details that are thrust upon us with the death of a parent. Funeral planning, notification of friends and family, canceling services and utilities, and the emotional task of sorting through a loved one’s belongings.
As we were going through boxes of files and old documents I came across a particular file folder. It was titled, “Letters from Bobby.” I opened the file and sat down as I browsed through the treasured content. Bobby is my mother’s brother. My uncle.
When my grandfather passed away in 1996 Bobby took over the role as patriarch of our extended family. He was our example of how to live a great life. How to be successful in business. How to treat people with kindness. How to start with a vision and bring that vision to reality. How to care for your immediate and extended family. How to bring generosity and benevolence to our community.
These letters are the greatest treasure.
For many years Bobby has been following a program called Letters from Dad that involves writing letters to your children so they understand you at a deeper level. He extended this letter writing to his siblings and sometimes even his nieces and nephews.
The letters that mom had saved from Bobby told the story of the influence that my grandparents had played in his upbringing, his work ethic, and his values. They shed light on parts of their lives that I had never known. These are the things that matter most. It is the details of our family history that often are lost with the death of a family member. When they are written down and shared with others they can live on for many generations.
The lessons can guide future generations.
I started a similar process for my children over 18 years ago. I have been writing stories to my children so they understand who I am and where I came from. I write to them so they will always know just how much I love them (even when I am gone). And I write to them to give them a greater understanding of my perspective, my upbringing, my dreams, and my fears.
It is a simple thing that any of us can do. And it will matter more than almost anything else. Imagine reading the story of your parent’s life as told by your grandparent. Or the story of your grandparent’s life, learning about details you had never known before.
You can create this. Leave your legacy.