In honor of Mommom, my spunky 97-year-old grandmother who passed away on December 23rd, I’m sharing what started as a personal reflection of her life and love. What follows are lessons learned from my reflections, and questions that I will regularly revisit to help make sure Mommom’s life doesn’t end with her death.
Born in 1920, Mommom witnessed a pace of technological advancement no other generation has experienced – from the TV, refrigerator, and microwave all the way to the internet, smartphones, playing solitaire on her iPad, and everything in between. She also experienced world-changing events/movements like the Great Depression, Amelia Earhart’s flight across the Atlantic, WWII, raising children in the 50s and 60s, and the civil rights movement. Though the world is far from perfect, it’s difficult for those of us born in the last 3 decades to truly appreciate the privilege into which we’ve been born. We have an unprecedented baseline for technological and medical standards, as well as an expectation for compassion and decency for our fellow humans no matter how our backgrounds differ.
But Mommom wasn’t born with those same baselines, she was part of a movement that created them. A movement that did the best they could with what they had, and cared more about people than about things. For 60 years, Mommom and Poppop (my grandfather, a WWII veteran, who passed away 8 years ago) had an open-door policy in their small-town neighborhood. Over these decades of tremendous change, they not only raised their 4 children in that home, they looked after their grandkids and great grandkids, as well as their neighbors’ kids and grandkids. Mommom was invested in her community, always willing to lend a hand to a neighbor or cheer someone up with her joy and wit. I never saw her hold a grudge or say a negative thing about anyone. It was evident by the way she lived that she walked humbly and was aware of her impact on others. Mommom and Poppop were pillars in their community. They directly shaped the values and life experience of dozens of individuals, and indirectly influenced hundreds if not thousands of others because of who they were with the people they knew.
Two short paragraphs can’t do Mommom and Poppop’s legacy justice, but there is enough to share 3 take-aways that I hope you will carry with you in life.
Living for 97 years is a long time, but with the pace of medical advancements, most of you reading this could live well past 100. With the changes that Mommom experienced now serving as a foundation for our lives, the changes we experience will happen much more rapidly. Sure, some things, like equality, progress much more slowly than we would like – but that means we have more capacity to be agents of change.
Our actions compound over time to create the world we experience, and the longer we live, the more we experience. For aspects of life that don’t change as quickly, we have our entire lifetime to exhibit our values. We can fight for the ideals and philosophies that make the world a better place, allowing us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. The things that change quickly provide us the chance to pause, take a breath knowing that the future is right around the corner, and consider whether the changes impose limitations or support freedom and opportunity.
Questions to ask Ourselves: What future are we creating for ourselves and those with whom we interact? When we’re 90 talking about what we did and how we saw the world change, will our actions and contributions make us proud?
It is difficult to think about experiencing life for 97 years – especially for those of us who aren’t even 1/3 of the way there. So rather than making resolutions to accomplish things years or decades from now, focus on what you can do in the moment. There are 86,400 seconds in a day. Which means there are 86,400 opportunities to laugh, love, work hard, relax, play, sleep, etc. There is no playbook for how to allocate your time, only that you get to decide every second of every day whether your actions align with your ideal-self.
How we choose to spend our time shapes us. The habits, attitudes, and personality of our future-self will be shaped by our daily micro-actions. There is no perfect-self, but we have 86,400 attempts today…. And when we inevitably mess up, we can take a second to be gracious with ourselves and look for the next opportunity to be the person we want to be during the following 86,399 seconds.
Questions to ask Ourselves: Have we invested our seconds in ways that are important to us? What can we do right now to make being our best-self a habit?
If there is one key lesson in life, it is that a person doesn’t die at the end of life, they die during the course of life. It’s counterintuitive, but take a moment to reflect on the life of a loved one who passed away. Life does not begin at birth and end at death. Life runs uninterrupted, flowing among people and through generations. Who Mommom is – her joy, love, gratitude, wisdom – didn’t vanish the day she died (dying at the end of life). Her best qualities were a contribution to help make the world a better place for everyone (dying during the course of life).
The same is true for us. We are all part of a world that must collaborate to be successful, to create opportunity, to make life just a little bit better for everyone. No matter our social status or how much money we have, we all have a legacy and we are all part of a legacy. We will all live forever, the only thing that will differ is how positively our lives impact others.
Questions to Ask: Do we embody the best traits of our culture and of those who built the world we inherited? Are we doing our best to improve our collective experience and invest in a better future?
It’s about everyone we love – those who are alive, who passed away, and who are yet to be born. The legacy we have is not reduced to our family, specific religious or ethnic groups, race or political parties, or whatever tribes we choose during life. Our legacy is enhanced by being human and seeing others equally as human, supporting everyone to be their best-selves.
We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community…Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own. ~ Cesar Chavez
How we are is because of those who came before us, who we are is for those who experience life with us, and why we are is for those who come after us. Life is continuous.
Thanks for being you, Mommom, and for truly living. You are loved and you are missed.