As my family and I prepared my mother’s memorial recently, the whole idea of legacy kept coming up. The legacy my mother left behind and the legacy my sister and I are creating and will pass on to the next generation.
My mother’s mantra in recent years was “be peace.” She signed off every email with it. She even had it on her license plate. It colored her actions and her way of being in the world.
My mother strove for peace – in the world and within herself. As I have mentioned before, my mother was mentally ill. She battled depression among other things stemming from the loss of her own mother when she was 5 years old. While listening to her friends describe her and the work she has done to help others, I couldn’t help but wonder how hard it must have been for her.
While she touched many lives and had many acquaintances, she did not have many close, peaceful relationships. She didn’t allow herself to get deeply close to many people and it seems most people got a little piece of her, but not the whole her. Those who she allowed close to her (family and a handful of friends) experienced her very differently than those she kept at a distance. Her close relationships were often marked with turmoil and drama. Yet she longed for peace. The relationships at arm’s length got to see her as she longed to be – peaceful, compassionate, and dynamic.
Anyone whose life has been touched by mental illness can tell you it’s a long and winding road. My mother’s and my relationship was challenging in the last years of her life. In order to create the balance and peace I longed for, I had to maintain distance from her, yet I still wasn’t able to see her as she longed to be. The mother I knew struggled with intimacy. She was demanding, critical, and harsh in her quest for peace, expecting others to conform to her unrealistic expectations about how things should be.
As I mourn the loss of my mother (both the mother I had and the one I longed to have), I am struck by the similarities in our paths. My life’s work involves helping others, just as my mother’s did. And I too long for peace, both within myself and in the world around me. I am deeply saddened that I didn’t know the woman many of her friends knew. However I feel my heart softening with time, realizing she did the best she could. And remembering how difficult it must have been for her to live such a duplicitous life.
My mother leaves behind an incredibly important legacy of peace. While she had difficulty realizing peace in many of her close relationships, she was an inspiration to many. I am proud to be a part of and share her legacy, and to carry it on in my own way.