A few months back, my daughter and I were going to a tea house with her best friend and her best friend’s mom. We were early so we sat in the parking lot listening to a This American Life podcast while we waited.
I didn’t catch the whole story but it seemed to be about a dying mother who, thanks to annual letters she had written in advance to her daughter before she died, managed, for better or worse, to shape and impact her daughter’s life from beyond the grave.
Listening to this story made me sad. My own mom had died unexpectedly in an accident when I was 13. In all the years since her death, I’d only ever thought about all the things I’d never gotten to say to her. It NEVER ONCE occurred to me that maybe there were things she would have liked to have said to me before she died.
How is it possible that I’d never considered this?
And it got me thinking of all the things I’d want my daughter and son to know if I was going to die tomorrow. For days afterward things popped into my mind faster than I could even remember them. I needed a BRAIN TIVO…
This thought process was sort of a living book of things both practical and sentimental—things needed to get by in life, things to prop you up when life is hard, things to remember when you doubt yourself and of course, innumerable smatterings of of “I love you” and “I’m proud of you.”
Here are just a few of the not-too-heavy ones:
- Don’t air your dirty laundry or talk shit in public. You NEVER know who’s listening.
- Think before you speak. This is a skill that will benefit you for the rest of your life.
- People learn how to treat you FROM YOU. Teach them properly.
- Don’t lend out books or clothes you can’t bear to live without because it’s very likely you’ll never get them back.
- Look people in the eye when speaking to them. I know it’s hard sometimes but force yourself to do it.
- Life can be horribly unfair sometimes. Do what you can to improve things and look for solutions instead of dwelling on the injustice of it all.
- Everyone has problems. Just because you don’t know about them or see them doesn’t mean they don’t have them so don’t waste your time being envious of how great someone elses’ life SEEMS to be.
- You can’t learn if you’re always talking—listen at least as much as you talk.
- You’re stronger than you think and you will get through it, whatever it is.
- Don’t waste time thinking you’re not smart enough, pretty enough or anything else enough. One day you’ll look back and kick yourself for wasting so much time not loving yourself just as you are.
- The power of a smile cannot be overstated.
My intention was to start writing all these things down and then life got in the way and well, you know…it never got off the ground.
Like all the legal stuff I still haven’t gotten around to (living trust, guardianship, durable power of attorney, living will etc etc etc), it’s on my to-do list (and I could use a little ass-kicking if you don’t mind).
But more than that, if you knew you were not long for this world, what words of wisdom, love, caution. advice etc would you want to leave behind for your children, both now and as they grow up?
Obviously, you’d tell them you love them but what else?
If you’d rather write about this on your own site, come back and share the link in the comments.