My father died when I was 35, a child fully grown with a family of my own. He died quickly, but not so quickly that there were not opportunities for us to express ourselves at the end. Mutual terror tied our tongues and allowed moments during which we could have been honest and brave with one another to slip away; moments during which I murmured soothing and cowardly platitudes like, “Everything will be okay,” knowing full well that things were not going to be okay.
He was brilliant with words, I less so, but during those final days our words failed us and although I carry his legacy in everything I am and everything I do, I often wish that things had gone differently. I wish that we had spoken about the important things; about the pain of separation, about what mattered most to him in his sixty-nine years, about our love for each other, about that piece of him he wanted me to carry with me always.
I want to do a better job with my children but often when I want to tell them something raw, deep or meaningful, I choke. The words get stuck and I just can’t say the things I intend. So, a few years ago when I read Happier Endings: A Meditation on Life and Death by Erica Brown, about making the end of life more meaningful for ourselves and our loved ones, I decided that I should leave my own ethical will, my legacy of words and values.
I may some day transfer my valuables to my sons but I’m just as determined to transmit my wisdom and values in some tangible way.
My Dear Boys,
You know I gave birth to you but you should also know that you gave birth to me, as a mother. I hope to be here with you for a long time but if I’m not, you need to know that you are smart enough and strong enough to stand on your own two feet. Know also, that I have had a wonderful, fulfilled life full of unconditional love and joy. No one can tell anyone else how to mourn but don’t get bogged down in mourning. You have work to do, life to live and happiness to experience.
Find a partner and build yourself a home filled with respect, love and laughter. Be content in it. Don’t look around and wonder what others have. Focus on what you have. Build a community for yourself. Being part of a community will require commitment and responsibility, but one day you will stumble, as we all do, and your community will catch you and when that day comes you will realize the value in what you have built. Build yourself a vocation that you are passionate about. Success is measured not by material wealth but by the number of people you touch and if you have passion for your work, you will inevitably touch others.
We like to say in our house, “Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle.” Be a contributor, not a complainer. Be a giver. Sometimes, be a taker. Always, always, always, be kind. Take risks. Not bungee jumping. What kind of dummy climbs high, tethers himself to an elastic cord and jumps? But, risk your heart, risk looking foolish, risk being honest.
Three of your grandparents were Holocaust survivors and we have provided you with a strong Jewish education. Think long and hard before you hand Hitler victory by walking away from your faith.
You’re fair skinned. Don’t be stingy with the sunscreen. Read a lot. Exercise more than your slug of a mother. Don’t forget to call your brothers. They are and always have been my greatest gift to you.
People die. Love remains. Always remember that you have given me tremendous happiness. My only sadness is in leaving you. I’m going to miss you when I’m gone.
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