“You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story… “ Hamilton
Yesterday, I embarrassed my daughter in the checkout line of the grocery store in which she works, and I left there thinking surely, here is yet another story to tell at my funeral. This is not a rare occurrence. Through the years, as I’ve done or said quirky, outlandish, or overemotional things that are met with horror or disbelief by a member of my family, my reaction is often the same: dear one, I love you, please add it to the eulogy.
My mother was the oft beleaguered subject of a joke as we were growing up, and who would have known then how her eccentricities, overreactions, or unique traits would be missed…how we would long for someone to again ask a restaurant server repeatedly for club soda to remove a red sauce stain from a shirt. How we would give anything to see her walk through a door with five-too-many “kicky” accessories on. How we would wish for ninety long seconds during which she would hold our faces in her hands while making uncomfortable eye contact. Occurrences like these which were pieces of a caricature while she was alive quickly became pieces of her that we could hold on to, totally unique, and something only a lucky few of us got to witness in her life.
So, when I direct my children to add stories to my eulogy, it’s not out of hurt or defensiveness, but instead a little nod of approval… a watermark to add to a day that they can look to later. I know from experience that they will want them, tactile “somethings” to hold on to. Already, I make notes in books and highlights in my kindle, of words of wisdom I want to leave for them later when they might go looking, when I’m less a caricature or a bit supporting player in their lives, but actually a source of something they consciously need. I’m leaving breadcrumbs behind.
But it’s true, no matter how hard I try to paint an image of myself that will be helpful and yes, flattering, later on, I won’t be the one who gets to tell my story. That task will be left to those who knew me, for better or for worse, and that is scary stuff for someone who thinks about legacy as often as I do.
As it turns out, my daughter wasn’t at all embarrassed in that checkout line. She thought my behavior was totally reasonable and even super polite when compared to other customers she’s had. It’s funny. I don’t get to curate her memories of me, and I don’t get to censor them, either. The event or comment that I am sure will stick may fall away from her mind with the years, replaced by some inane, thoughtless thing I truly believed didn’t matter at all at the time. (The same is true for any interaction I’ve ever had with any person I’ve met in all my years, and that is overwhelming to say the least.)
But I do hope they will know how hard I tried. Broken and emotional as I sometimes am, I love those kids much more than I love myself, and I know they are truly gifted people who will live remarkable lives, in part because of and in part despite of my mothering. I believe in them, and you can quote me on that.