I’d never been so thrown by a class assignment. Yet, there sat the blank screen, waiting for the words to come as I tried to write my own obituary. I began with my name then moved on to the “dash” part which would include: born on…dash…died. I chose not to fill in the date I died, but did take note of how old I was.
I was 47 years old.
I’d been alive for 47 years. That’s 17,155 days to get it right. I looked at the prompts for this writing assignment. What do I want my life to reflect? I thought I’d take a creative approach and write about the dreams that I’d had for an entrepreneurial venture. Who were the people I wanted to impact? I wrote about my family and the throngs of other creatives who would be loved to live by words I had written.
So full of life! And then it hit me. Or should I say, SHE hit me, and spoke to my heart in the way of one who had been there. My sister, Mary, vibrant, strong, energetic, driven. Yes, Mary who had taken her role as the eldest of twelve children and blazed trails for the rest of us to follow. Headstrong, resilient, yet vulnerable and self-protective. Mary called to me in this assignment. I felt my eyes drift to her most recent business card that rested on my desk, Director of Veteran Affairs at the Erie County Courthouse. I knew that assignment had been a joy to her. My sister passionately embraced her role of helping veterans receive the benefits they’d earned and deserved. I was one of those veterans and had the privilege to see my sister’s work in action.
Though she loved her job, what made her zest come to life was love for people. She didn’t have a clique, Mary loved everyone. She didn’t see color, age, size, or financial status…she
saw fellow travelers in the journey of life. Her special tribe was her children and husband. She’d been married three times. Her belief in love and a desire to provide a caring home for her family kept her heart open to possibility. Her capacity to live the line, “Hope springs eternal,” led her to open a shop as “The Cookie Lady,” take on several jobs within the realm of her Criminal Justice degree, joyfully serve in a comedy club, seek and win ribbons for various baking competitions, and even enter competitive body-building after having her six children. She had trophies that nodded to her drive to succeed. Yet, with all her accomplishments, I was most grateful for her generous kindness. I remember her knock on my door when I was a single mother. Opening the door back then, let in the whirlwind of my sister and her bevy of children for a ten-minute visit to bring me a meal. No matter what turmoil was taking place in Mary’s life, she dealt with it by internalizing the phrase, “Fake it til you make it,” pasting on a smile and helping others.
Even when the cancer diagnosis was delivered.
I was in the car with my sister when she had to make a quick stop, to drop off one of her long blond wigs to a co-worker who wanted to dress up for a hot date with her husband. Mary had sass. Mary had pizazz. She had style, fun, and a bravery that allowed her to try on all sorts of looks…even as she dropped down to under a hundred pounds.
I am so grateful that I had enough sense to accept her offer to hand out Halloween candy at
her house that final October in her life. She was in full-form with her striped stockings, black
silk pointed hat, full make-up, and of course, a fantastic wig. She smiled and called each neighbor by name. She giggled with the litany of compliments to her fabulous persona. “Well, why wouldn’t I dress up?,” she laughed.
Susie, she now seemed to whisper as my keyboard sat untouched…do something. Do it all. That dream to touch people and bring your ideas to life doesn’t just happen. Take the steps to bring it to life.
I am 47 years old…turning 48 this year. Mary was 48 when that date was filled in after her dash. I want to live and love others. I will write the obituary as a list of my goals…and I will take steps toward those goals with gratitude, courage, perseverance and the memory of those who have led the way.