Harvesting the Legacies

“Our role in grieving is to harvest the legacies we have been left by those who have passed on.”
-Dr Tom Attig-

I recently was deeply moved as I read “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi, a young neurosurgeon who faced his own death with humility and courage at just 37 years of age and who chose to write about what makes life worth living in the face of death.

In the epilogue his wife Lucy wrote:

“I expected to feel only empty and heartbroken after Paul died – it never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I would continue to feel such love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow…

Paul is gone, and I continue to miss him acutely nearly every moment, but I somehow feel I’m still taking part in the life we created together…caring for our daughter, nurturing relationships with family, pursuing meaningful work, visiting Paul’s grave, grieving and honouring him, persisting…my love goes on, lives on, in a way I’d never expected.”

Such a beautiful picture of starting to ‘harvest the legacies’. In both his life and death Paul Kalanithi left a wonderful imprint on the lives of his family and many – a legacy that they can treasure and enfold into their own, that will live on for generations to come.

Like Lucy Kalanithi, those of us who have taken the journey through the death of a loved one, be they old or young, a tragic sudden death or an expected death, discover that our loved ones are never far from our thoughts and hearts, they simply continue to journey forward with us in a new way.

I love the idea that ‘harvest’ speaks of something having reached its fullness ready to be processed, reproduced and saved.

As I consider how we harvest the legacies of loved ones who have passed on in family, I think of my love of gardening inherited from Dad and of my sister, niece and nephew planting veggie gardens ‘just the way Poppa taught us’. I smile as I think of the way my mother, an exquisite seamstress, would shake her head at some of my sewing techniques.

And I remember the importance both sets of parents placed on eating meals and celebrating together as a family, and on nurturing those relationships, even if they are difficult. Along with this, there are the family golf tournaments, fishing contests and baking competitions established as we remember the skill, love and fun of those who have gone before.

I also love to wear the wedding or engagement rings of both my mother, mother-in-law and grandmother and am reminded of the covenant of marriage and their belief in that.

Recently, talking to a friend about her mother’s recent death, she said “I am forever changed”. This is so true. As we walk through the loss of a loved one new depths of wisdom and understanding are laid down in the fabric of our lives and we look a life through different lenses, journeying forward, harvesting the legacies of those forever in our hearts.