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Stories Told Around the Campfire

The importance of leaving a legacy

By Tom Mathei


When you are young and bullet proof, not much thought is given to leaving a Legacy. However, as we age there is a subtle internal question posed to each of us that grows louder with each passing year. The question can be asked in a multitude of words and phrases, but it basically asks, “What mark, if any, have we made in this world? Will those I have loved remember me?”

Unless you start at the age of reason, determined to build a lasting, positive legacy, you are destined to take what you get. That is the way it goes for most of us. My mother was a big believer in family legacy, having come from a tight knit family that included 9 siblings. At the age of 83 she decided to pull up stakes and move across State lines to be closer to my family and me.  She loved to tell stories of her childhood to anybody that would listen. After the move, mom loved to spend time with my three daughters. They loved her stories. Our now grown daughters chastised my wife and I recently for not telling them more stories from our childhood. They were fascinated and entertained by the gift of family history and memories of the good times and the bad.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, communication with seniors is extremely important to their health and well being. My siblings introduced my mom to the computer for that very reason on her 80th birthday. She became “Cyber Nana” on steroids, spending several hours each night at the keyboard. As most of her brothers and sisters had passed away, as well as most of her friends, she became focused on getting her family’s life story down on paper. Yes paper, in spite of her prowess with the computer. (more on that later)

With nine siblings, the Great Depression, Prohibition, World War II and Korea, occurring during her life, it came as no surprise this small project was on its way to being a book, a very large book. She called it “Laughter and Tears, the Life and Times of the Searle Clan”.  No one was allowed to read a word of it until she was finished. The tragedy of her passing before she had finished bothered me. As we sorted through everything after the funeral, we were devastated. She had not saved a single word on the hard drive. As we moved the last piece of furniture out of her Independent Living apartment, we found the holy grail of the Searle clan. She had printed the entire book, drawn the cover graphic, added pictures and old news clippings and quotes. There were three copies, one for my brother, sister and me.

Mom’s passionate desire to leave a legacy was more powerful than any of us realized. We knew she was a hard driving woman that would go to war over the thought of putting her in Assisted Living. She flourished in her own apartment surrounded by her memories, as well as her family. She “aquasized” six times a week, taught exercise classes for other senior citizens. The book was full of pearls of wisdom. Her favorite was what she called her three keepers.  Keep your Faith. Keep your sense of humor and Keep moving. She obviously lived by the keepers every day until a few months before her passing at age 92.

Mom’s gone now, along with my responsibility of taking care of her. I no longer have to worry about falling incidents, or wound management and meal preparation. No taking off work to drive her to doctor appointments, or shopping trips. I was free of the burden. It was at that point that I realized that down deep I was proud of myself for being a good son and truly enjoyed the work. However, I also realized I could have done so much more with my mom with a little outside help. Having another set of eyes and ears in her apartment would definitely have filled the gaps. It should not surprise anyone that most of the scariest senior moments always seemed to occur in those very gaps in coverage.  Sorry, no do-overs.

The whole legacy thing worked out very well for my mom, but even better for us. She did a masterful job of recording our family history. Even though she has been in heaven for several years, her legacy lives on to this day. Our entire family still quotes her a couple of times a day. We smile. We laugh about her stories, and marvel at all the changes that occurred during her lifetime. We understand that we are part of her legacy, and will be proud to tell her stories around campfires for many moons to come.