What legacy would you leave behind??

A dying man in America has decided to donate his priced collection of 1500 bobbleheads to a museum.  Now, you may be wondering what kind of museum would be interested in a small plastic toy with an oversized head?  Not surprisingly, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum was delighted to accept them. This somewhat whimsical tale got me thinking about what, if anything, I would be leaving to the world when it comes to shuffling off this mortal coil?

I have never been ultra-materialistic so although I have all that I need I’ve never been one for collecting lots of things.  When I was younger I didn’t collect stamps or coins or beer mats and only got half a dozen girl guide badges. I’ve never entirely understood the obsession required to build up a collection of “things” which often have little intrinsic value. I genuinely can’t imagine that anything I own would be worth donating to anywhere other than the charity shop!

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It would be lovely to think that your lifetime’s collection is being visited and admired by others but I’d like to think that a legacy doesn’t always have to be tangible.  Perhaps some of us have left behind something more ethereal. During my career I worked with many people who were at a crossroads.  With support they were able to rebuild and sometimes prolong their lives, finding more satisfaction and happiness.  However not all of them made it and it saddens me to think of those who continued to live a half-life or died before their time. I would love to know what happened to some of my clients and I hope they continued to flourish and grow. I take consolation in the fact  that my legacy may be something that other people might not be able to visit and admire easily but is as important as a collection of Picasso paintings or Malibu Barbies.  We all leave something behind when we go – what do you think your legacy will be?

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Dying of a broken heart

Today being Valentine’s Day has made me reflect on the wonderfulness of love and the pain of losing a loved one.  Loss can take many forms – it can be through death but also through a relationship breakup, a child leaving home or your closest friend emigrating to Australia. The very special aspect of having love in your life is what makes it so devastating when it goes. If someone has died you may have to accept that it is irredeemable whereas a husband saying he is leaving may allow some hope of reconciliation.  Both of these experiences have pros and cons in terms of accepting what has happened.  It is not unusual for ex-spouses to say that “I almost wish he{her} had died” because it feels that it would be clearer.  But for those whose partners have died I’m sure they would give anything to know they were still alive even if they had found a new love.

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We all know of examples where elderly couples have died within days of each other and people will say that s/he died of a broken heart.  In December 2016 Debbie Reynolds died a mere one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher.  Whilst Reynolds was 84 and not in the best of health it was said that she had died of a broken heart over the death of her child with whom she’d had a tumultuous but close relationship.

Personally, like most people, I’ve had my heart broken and I think I would have said in my saddest moments  that I felt like I wanted to die but I don’t feel I was ever in danger of actually dying. So I was surprised to find that there is a medical condition known as Broken Heart Syndrome. Takotsubo cardiomyopathy doesn’t sound very romantic but it can occur during moments of extreme emotional stress. Many of us may have experienced it without realising because it didn’t actually kill us.  We know that emotional pain can feel the same if not worse than physical pain.  Our hearts feel light when we are happy: it might skip a beat to see someone we like and it might race with the excitement of being with a loved one. We also feel a heaviness in our chest when we are sad, sometimes even to the point of feeling like it’s difficult to breath. It may explain why we use expressions like heartache to describe sadness.

I wish that Valentine’s Day was a celebration of love rather than just romantic love.  We could all then enjoy the love we have in our lives and not just focus on whether we have one “significant other”. For anyone who may be sad today because they have lost the love of their life it might help to remind them that the love of their friends, family, colleagues and neighbours can provide protection and healing for a broken heart.

If I could have one more hour with you.

In The Guardian yesterday there was an article by Tom Connolly “We got it right.  We’ve been good brothers”.  It is a very moving account of his close relationship with his older brother, Pip who died at the age of 50 in 2010.  Tom has realised that this year he reaches an age whereby he will be older than the last time he saw his brother.  Having spent his whole life looking up to his brother and taking his advice on everything, he feels that he is entering unknown territory – how can he experience an age his brother never did? Who will tell him how to handle what life might throw at him.

Tom misses his brother terribly and he remembers a very moving moment they shared together when Pip knew he was dying.  They held each other and reiterated their love for each other.  Tom told his brother that he didn’t want Pip to die and couldn’t imagine life without him. Pip admitted that he could never have watched his little brother die and was relieved that it was this way around. They had the opportunity to say many of the things we never get around to saying to each other – always thinking that there will be time for that.

I remember when my brother was seriously ill in a London hospital and everything looked pretty hopeless.  I remember travelling there from Bristol and knowing that I had to tell him I loved him.  Coming from a family which wasn’t big on saying what we feel, I knew I had to overcome my reluctance because I might never have this opportunity again and I would forever regret not doing so.  In fact, when I saw him lying in his hospital bed, so close to death, the words came easily.  My brother recovered miraculously but I never regret that moment we shared in the private hospital room. Whatever happens in the future my brother knows that I love him.

Tom Connolly misses his brother so much that he has fantasised that somehow he will see his brother on his birthday and this led him to think about what he would say if he could have one more hour with his Pip. Thinking back to that conversation they had, Tom is lucky to realise that he doesn’t have anything unsaid that he needs to resolve with Pip.  He would just like to look at him, hold him and walk with him.  And perhaps to tell him one more time how much he is loved.

Mottos to live by

At the end of our lives we will inevitably look back and consider what we achieved and whether we lived a good and full life. Over the years we may have had a sense of what direction we were heading in and what we wanted to achieve in our lives even when this might have been as simple as maintaining a happy status quo. Underpinning this we would have built up a complex set of values and ethics which governed and informed our everyday activities much like a business or organisation might formalise into a Mission Statement and Statement of Values. As a shorthand many organisations have a formal or informal slogan that they use to reflect this.  For example Asda says “Every Little Counts” whilst Barnado’s is “Believe in Children”.  Both of these say so much about the organisation and what is fundamental to its operation. So what slogan or motto would reflect the aims and values of your life?

There are daily posts on social media (particularly some bonkers ones by a man with a vegetable in his name) which provide slogans to live by:

“Beautify your thoughts. Thoughts are the headwaters of action, life and manifestation.” – David Avocado Wolfe (told you he was bonkers!)

“Do one thing every day that scares you” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined” – Henry David Thoreau

Some of these are empty platitudes often written by people who don’t live by the same creed themselves urging us to strive to be better people.  But maybe a bit of “do as I say, not do as I do” can still give us a kick up the bum when we need it.

“Don’t complain, there’s always someone worse off than you.”

“Stop talking and start doing.”

When we give ourselves a good talking to we often use cliches and hackneyed phrases frequently recycled from our own childhoods.  When dealing with my own compulsive procrastinations I often use “oh, for goodness sake just do it” – I can hear my mother saying it long before Nike used it as a slogan.

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I’ve told you a million times not to exaggerate

Many years ago I discovered a quote by Howard Figler, the career counsellor,  which says:

“Risk is the tariff for leaving the land of predictable misery.”

For me this was pertinent for that particular time of my life but I have relied on it ever since whenever I am apprehensive about getting out of my comfort zone or (more truly) my rut and making a change. I had it written in the front of my Filofax where it reminded me to not settle for any situation I wasn’t happy with.  On one occasion it prompted me to talk to my intimidating boss about my ridiculous workload whilst in another situation it encouraged me to apply for a new job.  It also helped me to find the courage to end a relationship despite the fear of ending up a lonely old lady. To this day I still keep a white feather pinned to my mirror to challenge myself to be brave especially when I don’t want to be! This motto was one that I knew could help me live a life without regrets of what could have been.

But if I was to pick a single motto for my life I think it would be something like:

“Life is a balance sheet. Being only human you will inevitably get things wrong, hurt people’s feelings and never be perfect. So make sure you are kind, loving and selfless often enough to balance out the books.”

What would be your motto or slogan and how have they helped you to make life decisions?