How will your children remember you?
JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--An unusual obituary ran in a California newspaper in August.
It was an obit for 79-year-old Delores Aguilar in the Times-Herald of Vallejo, Calif. Her daughter Virginia Brown was the writer.
"Delores had no hobbies, made no contribution to society and rarely shared a kind word or deed in her life," Brown wrote about her mother. "I speak for the majority of her family when I say her presence will not be missed by many, very few tears will be shed and there will be no lamenting over her passing."
What a way to be remembered, huh?
A columnist from another local paper, John Bogert of the Daily Breeze, went searching to determine if the obit was legitimate or a hoax. Sadly, he verified its authenticity and even spoke to Brown about why she wrote what she did.
"I wanted to do the right thing, the honest thing," Brown told Bogert. "When she died a co-worker gave me a copy of an obituary she wrote for her father as a kind of writing guide. What struck me was how my mother was none of the things I was reading. She was never there for us, she was never good and she left no legacy."
The other day I picked up a copy of the book "A Nickel's Worth of Skim Milk," by Bob Hastings. Hastings was a Baptist minister and served for several years as editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper. The book is the story of Hastings as a boy, growing up in Southern Illinois.
My childhood experiences differed considerably from his. He was a child of the Great Depression. I was a child of the 80s.
Still, there's something warm about reading the stories of others as they were growing up -- especially if the memories they are sharing are fond ones. While reading his book, I delighted to experience the accounts Hastings told of his boyhood. His parents made life happy for him, despite the tough economic circumstances.
Some of the stories he told made me smile. He recalled how at Christmas every year, his father would kill one of their chickens. His mom would dress it and dry it, and then they wrapped the bird up securely and packaged it in a box. His dad then took the chicken to the post office and mailed it to Hastings' sister in St. Louis.
"We sent what we could, and I always sensed that the package was tied by cords of love," Hastings wrote.
Reading Hastings' childhood stories made me appreciate the fact that over the next few years, I'll be largely responsible for the memories my own children will be making. Those memories will accompany them throughout their lives.
Will the thoughts they conjure up 50 years from now be recollections that make them smile? I'm fairly confident their memories will never be as bitter as Brown's are of her mother. But am I doing all I can to brighten their days and fill their lives with joy?
Too often I find myself tempted to shortchange my children to pursue my own selfish interests. Rather than playing with my son, it's easier for me to plop down and watch a ballgame. Rather than reading a Winnie the Pooh book to my daughter for the 52nd time, it's easier for me to piddle around on the computer -- doing stuff that I'd like to think is important.
As sad as Delores Aguilar's obituary is, and as extreme of an example as it is, it's a potent reminder nonetheless for those of us who are parents. What will our children say about us when we're gone?
May my children never be tempted to say about me what Brown said about her mother at the obituary's end: "There will be no service, no prayers and no closure for the family she spent a lifetime tearing apart. We cannot come together in the end to see to it that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren can say their goodbyes. So I say here for all of us, GOOD BYE, MOM."
Tim Ellsworth is director of news and media relations at Union University.