It doesn’t take long, researching one’s roots, to realize that we, too, become part of a long chain of humanity. Sometimes we are reluctant to take our place—like when we are urged to draw up our will or pre-arrange funeral or burial—but sandwiched between generations in the march of life, we intuitively grasp the value of leaving something behind.
Holding young Edna Tully’s diary the other day reminded me how deep the need is to receive something tangible from the one who has left us behind. “Memento” becomes too trite a word for it. I’ve been poring over my own mother’s many journal entries in a way that goes far beyond mere reading. It becomes a seeking, a yearning. It is a hope—not to reconnect, but to re-establish our place with each other. It immortalizes relationship.
Having something tangible that represents that relationship enables those left behind to peer inside the veneer they have already bid adieu. Sometimes, there are questions about the struggle that is now over: “How did you endure the agony of your illness? What were you thinking while you went through this?”
Sometimes there are simpler questions seeking to know the whole person better: “What was it really like when you were young?” “What did you think when you went through that difficult time?” There are so many questions that, but for the pain—or, sometimes, shortness—of the last days, would have been joyful exercises in “Getting to Know You Better.”
Yet, sometimes, there are those most urgent of questions, unspoken, left unanswered during a lifetime: “Do you really love me as much as you said?”
The visceral response I’ve had, reading through my own mother’s writing, and the same tender-yet-riveted emotions I’ve noticed in others finding their relatives’ writing post-mortem, convince me that we must realize that we, too, need to leave something behind.
There was a day when journaling was part of a slower-paced culture, a culture that valued words and conversations, face-to-face relationships, a here-and-now that people could reach out and touch. Today, we own a culture in the ether, a culture that saves paper to preserve trees but digitizes relationships. With the click of a mouse, we de-friend long-lost contacts; we “preserve” our family memories through “mommie blogs” in the self-assurance that what has been will always be, blind to the possibility that today’s hottest technologies—and the connections they seek to forge—may someday be vaporized.
There is nothing like touching a book. There is nothing like holding a family member’s words in your own hands.
But what about you? What will you leave behind when you join those before you? Surely, you must realize that someone is following in your footsteps—someone who will ask those same questions of you after you are departed. What will you say to them when you are no longer here to find your voice?
If you haven’t begun doing so yet, start today. Despite being busy with the fullness of life, regardless of what you are doing to pass on your heritage through your genealogical research, there is no substitute for you. Take your place in the procession.
Leave your mark.