What will people say about me when I’m gone?
Morbid, I know; but also such a deep question I’ve been asking myself often over the course of the past 5ish weeks. I lost my grandmother in January just two weeks shy of hopping on a plane for Texas to celebrate her 100th birthday for the 3rd time.
Before anyone asks, she did not die from COVID. She was perfectly healthy – in fact, her doctors often stated she was healthier than almost all their patients half her age. Katherine was a dynamo. She was my best friend. I had her for more than 37 years. The first 18 of which she lived not far from us, and we were so blessed to spend our weekends with her. She walked us to school in the mornings because we didn’t like to go to school with our mom that early. We had weekend dinners with her. Sleepovers all the time. She gave us all the most amazing memories.
Katherine wasn’t your average grandmother. She did all the grandmotherly things – she baked us cookies and we went for walks and played with her Great Dane – but she was so much more than that. She was an artist, a farmer, an avid gardener, a reader. We discussed books, and she taught me to tend to a garden (and failed miserably because my thumb is the antithesis of green). She painted. She walked miles every single day. She drove fast and with a lot of impatience for the other drivers on the road (that I did inherit with ease). She told the best stories. She laughed all the time. She was quick with a smile and a smartass comment. She danced. She had fun.
Katherine was the life of the party. She was 86 when my husband and I got married 16 years ago, and she was the one on the dance floor all night long. She went through the groomsmen, the guests, the groom himself – she danced all night. Fast songs. Slow songs. All the songs. We call her the prom queen of our wedding night.
The simple thing to say about Katherine is this: Anyone who knew her for even a brief time in their own life was a far better person for knowing her. She was a leader. She was so active. At her age, she ran circles around all of us. She and I text daily, though most of the time she wanted to text our middle daughter, Ava; our little artist – and her namesake. Ava Cathryn is her great-grandmother, and the world will be so much better for that, too.
My grandmother was my role model, my mentor, my favorite person. I often said when I grow up, I want to be Katherine. And, that, my friends, has never been truer.
Naively, I never saw her death coming. I guess I just thought someone so healthy and vibrant and full of life would be here forever. Even at her age, it never occurred to me that the news my parents called me with would be that she died peacefully in her sleep overnight. To say I was shocked is an understatement. I just…didn’t think the world would ever not include her. Losing my grandmother has been difficult on me. I still cry when I think about her. I can’t listen to certain songs. I can’t smell certain things. I haven’t baked anything since she passed because she’s the one who taught me to bake and showed me that it’s less about precise measurements than it is about your instinct and the flavors.
I’ve thought so much about her in the past five weeks. One thing that really stands out to me is all the kind words that came from all the people so fortunate to have known her. Everyone has a Katherine story, and each one is more beautiful than the next. At the end of the day, everyone remembers her as being hilarious, active, so impressive, so intelligent, and so kind. She’d do anything for anyone. She’d take over anything that needed direction. She’d light up every room she walked into with her personality and her beauty. She always had a story to tell or a lesson to share, and her legacy is beautiful.
It makes me wonder what people will say about me when I’m gone, and it makes me realize that if I want to grow up to be Katherine, I need to start now. I’m late. I’m so much like her, yet nothing like her at all. Stubborn? Okay, yes. I’ll take it. Is someone constantly muttering under their breath while in the car with me that there should be stricter rules on who gets to have a license? Also, yes…yes, they are. Do I tell a good story? I really do. I have a great smile, too. It’s hers…that’s why.
But…I just worry that the other things people will have to say about me when I’m gone are less than flattering.
“Tiffany? Oh, yeah. She said fuck a lot. She hated everyone. She had no patience. She literally could not stand stupidity. She was a terrible cook. The fire alarm went off almost every single time she was in the kitchen doing anything but baking. She was competitive. She liked to work out. She liked to read. She wasn’t super likable until you really got to know her. She wasn’t very open with people. Her husband was the better parent…” I know my best friend would tell you that she sees right through me and that for as ‘tough’ and ‘impatient’ as I appear, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I feel so deeply and so much and things affect me on a level so much more than most.
While all true, those aren’t all the things I want to leave in the hearts of others when I’m gone. I’ve been thinking about what I would like people to say about me one day (and probably new people because I’ll outlive everyone I know right now if I’m like my grandmother).
I think I’d like them to say that I carried on an intelligent, thoughtful, insightful, inquisitive conversation. I’d like them to say I was a good listener. I’d like them to say that I made them laugh, that they enjoyed spending time with me, that I was a great mom and wife. I’d like them to say that I was a great friend. I want people to look back and remember me for being someone who brought joy into their lives, who was always there for them, who celebrated their wins and their triumphs. I want people to remember me as being someone they loved hard because I loved them hard right back.
Don’t get me wrong…I really like myself. I could probably watch my language a little. I could probably practice a little more patience. But, I can tell you that while I can be so many of the things that my grandmother was, I probably won’t become the person who opens up to just anyone or the person who becomes instantly likable.
The past few weeks have been spent thinking about what I want to leave the world with – the little pieces of me that are most important. It’s made me realize that there’s always room for improvement, and that there is always a place in my heart where I can do and be better. That’s my goal this year. Katherine was always learning, taking classes, educating herself, doing more. Why not me?
My goal from now on is to use every opportunity to learn something new. To try something new. To be myself, but the best possible version – and maybe to practice patience. To help others as often as possible, even when it’s small or seemingly insignificant.
I leave you with this question….what do you want the world to say about you when you’re gone? It’s important because this is your only chance to create the legacy you want for yourself, your family, and your life.