Legacy and Dignity



My mother has an elderly aunt who was just moved into a nursing home. Dementia finally incapacitated her, and she could no longer live on her own. The only reason my mother is involved is because this particular aunt had no children, spent 60 years alienating herself from her family and friends, and quite literally had no one else.

This aunt (we'll call her Auntie C.) had been completely estranged from the family for nearly twenty years, mostly by her choice, but as her generation began to age and die off, my mother reached out to her from a sense of obligation. Starting in the mid-1990's, my mom would regularly take her dinner, take her out shopping and to the doctor, check in and make sure she was still breathing. Because there was no one else, my mom now holds power of attorney, and in this situation that means maintaining the estate and conscientiously dealing with health care decisions. And once the situation concludes, what remains of her aunt's estate all goes directly to distant relatives in Poland.

Power of attorney in a situation like this turns into a full time job. Earlier this year, my mom retired after 43 years of teaching. Instead of enjoying her retirement, now she must deal with this nonsense. In many ways, it's the proper epitaph for dear Auntie C. She's an unfortunate example of someone who lived a long life thriving off the miseries of others, a human engine powered by spite. Her goal at family functions was to systematically demean the achievements of everyone else in the room. There was no single unfortunate misunderstanding that led to her estrangement; past a certain point, let's say the fourth wedding she ruined, no one wanted her around and by all accounts she had no interest in being around.

Even recently, despite my mother's efforts to find any drop of sincerity left in Auntie C., she burned all of her family photos and her wedding dress in her fireplace because, "They're mine, and I can do what I want with them, and I don't want anyone having them." Photos and a wedding dress...things that have no value but sentiment, and she'd be damned if she'd allow anyone the chance to have any pleasant remembrances of her. By her own doing, we have someone who's purposely alienated everyone and everything she's ever known. Someone who's left a legacy of only anger and indignity. When she passes, not a single person will mourn. No one will be left with fond memories, no stories of Auntie C. will be passed down to new generations.

How terrifying is that to contemplate? After 94 years, she'll simply disappear. Her home will most likely be sold, demolished and redeveloped. All her artificial plants and artificial hair (she wore the same wig for as long as anyone cares to remember), untouched since 1954, will wind up in a dumpster. There will be no photos or mementos. Once the emotions about the situation pass through my mom, Auntie C. won't even be memory, as she'll be happily forgotten or filed away in the memories that never get accessed.

What the Hell does this have to do with my unemployment or career perspectives? Well, if nothing else, it's motivation to leave a mark, and not a dark one. Work towards things I believe in, and goals that improve myself, my family and the world that I touch. If 94 years of life can be so easily discarded, my short time on Earth is just as tenuous. I may not be able to control the outcomes of my choices, but I most certainly can control the intentions, and do my best to leave people better for having known me. Furthermore, I'd implore anyone else to do the same.

It just goes to show, even a long life is too short to forego passion. Working in a career you don't believe in, are indifferent to or disdainful of, just to earn is a sin that no one with an ounce of self respect should contemplate. Living for yourself, to line your pocketbook, to diversify your portfolio, will really only get you money. Living for happiness, for your family, for the people in your world and striving for ubiquitous quality in every aspect of your life will get you substance.

Can everyone work their dream job? No, of course not. Unfortunately, the world needs people to do unpleasant jobs. What anyone can do, though, is to treat their job with focus and positivity, never losing sight of the parts that are truly rewarding. Treat the people in your job and in your life with respect and care. You can achieve that which is most important: dignity.

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