Legacy. A word we often associate with public figures - professional athletes, movie stars, philanthropists...people who do big things on big scales. The amount of charitable work they do, the children they raise that often times follow in their footsteps. But how do we define it when we’re talking about an everyday person? Someone who isn’t in the spotlight yet the mark they made on other people’s lives was significant in their own right?
How often do you think about the legacy you’re creating?
My father passed away on March 10, 2017 - two weeks ago, and all I can think about lately is the word legacy. His story is not remarkable and yet after spending a week in the presence of friends, family and some strangers (at least to me), it was apparent that he made his mark. My dad was a funny guy, he had a dry sense of humor and loved a practical joke. He served in the Army and was a cop in the Bronx, proud to be NYPD. He married his childhood sweetheart and together they raised 2 kids, me and my brother. They moved to Florida in 1984 in search of a better life for our family. My parents were together for 55 years and loved one another the entire time. He played golf and screamed at the TV during football season at his beloved NY Giants. He would sometimes call me in NY during a game to ask if I saw a particular play - I get my love of the Giants from him.
His life was not without complication - he was not a particularly healthy guy. He suffered his first heart attack in 2002 resulting in a triple bypass. That was followed by a few years of good health, and a few bumps in the road. The last two years were hard for him. After years of medication his kidneys started to show signs of decline resulting in thrice weekly dialysis treatments. His body was becoming his enemy. His heart would not be able to withstand any kind of surgery so he would have to endure the increasing hip and joint pain. It was becoming difficult to walk and every little cold would turn into a full blown case of something worse. This last time it was pneumonia. He spent the last week of his life in the hospital fighting for survival until he couldn’t do it anymore. He was tired. I saw it when we visited over the holidays, he looked wiped out. He was trapped in a body that was shutting down and deep down I think he knew it. Even though my heart is broken and the tears can come unexpectedly on a dime, I know he’s at peace and out of pain.
His services were full of people who came to pay their respects and share their stories of my dad. My parents were the ultimate entertainers often hosting dinner parties and holidays so it was only fitting that we had a bar at his wake (which I highly recommend by the way). Instead of focusing on our loss we chose to focus on his life. We created a true celebration for him. His flowers were personalized in red, white and blue for two reasons - his military service and his football team. We even had the NY Giants logo created out of flowers (Go Blue!). The local police department sent honor guards to stand watch over his casket in acknowledgement of his service. The wake lasted four hours and was filled with friends and family from near and far sharing their stories, smiling and laughing through their tears because that’s what he would have wanted.
His funeral was full of love, thoughfulness and respect. The American Flag was ceremoniously folded in his honor and presented to my brother to keep. There was not a dry eye in the church after the eulogy’s, one given by myself and the other given by my niece, his grand daughter. We spoke of his life, his loves and how we would continue to move forward in his absence. The local fife and drum band played for him as he entered and exited the church. It was St. Patrick’s Day after all. There was so much sentiment and love it’s impossible to describe with words. My heart is full knowing that even though we may have had some differences, we share the same core values.
Throughout the week my biggest concern was for our children. None of them had lost someone so close to them up to this point. I was worried about how would they react to losing their Grandpa. In the end, they were the ones who impressed me the most. I had no reason to be nervous for them - his 4 grandchildren who loved him so much. They attended to my mother, hugging her when she cried. They held onto one another during the services, like one unit, taking turns being the anchor. The experience they had and the lessons they learned about life and love were priceless. We watched them grow and change in a few short days. They told stories and made us laugh - especially the little one (he’s 5). They brought comfort and healing. They ended up being the magic that we needed to get through it.
Thinking about it and replaying it in my mind, I have so much love for his life, for the joy he gave to others, for the experiences he had. Legacy doesn’t mean money or fame. Legacy is all about the mark you make on another person’s life. It’s about the love you spread and the kindness you share. I interacted with hundreds of people throughout the week and each one of them told me how fortunate THEY were to have known my father. While the grieving process will continue, I will be forever grateful to have been his daughter and to know unconditional love.
THAT is a legacy.