A couple of weeks ago I wrote about when you’re searching for hope.  I mentioned that I felt prompted to do it that day for someone who might specifically need it.  I didn’t realize that it would be me who needed to read it.

The day I wrote and published that post, my vibrant 59 year old mother had a stroke. She doesn’t appear to have any permanent damage.  My mom has spent a lot of her time as the primary caregiver for her aging parents. She has dealt with a lot of stress. Grandpa Kohler is 86 and Grandma Kohler will be 88 in August.

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My mother divorced my father when I was 2 1/2 and my brother Jeff was 6 months old. We lived with my grandparents for about a year during the transition time. My grandparents continued to be our main support system after we moved with my mom to an apartment, and later a home across town.

Grandpa and Grandma took us to church every other week we weren’t visiting my dad. Jeff and I spent hours building couch forts in the living room and playing in their backyard. We helped Grandma Kohler in the garden.

We ate Thanksgiving dinners and shared most Christmas Eves reenacting the nativity together. Grandpa Kohler baptized and confirmed us members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints when we each turned 8 years old.

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1989 Jen and Mom, 1980 Jen and Jeff Christmas, 1994 Jen and Dad, 1987 Jen sporting super rad hair, cousins Christine and Heidi and Jeff at the Grandparents’ house

I had one-on-one trips with  Grandpa. We shared conversations over vanilla malted milkshakes. Grandpa gave me driving lessons in his Cadillac.

Grandma and Grandpa were at every school play, big game, graduation and award ceremony for us. It is impossible for me to reflect on the special moments of my life without thinking about my grandparents.

I spend a lot of my time researching the lives of dead people.  I logically understand that death is unavoidable. There are steps that I can take to prolong my time on Earth. I exercise, eat health foods, and work to maintain a healthy body mass. I don’t smoke, do drugs or drink alcohol. Despite my efforts,  I will die no matter how many miles I run to keep my heart healthy.

I would like to live to be 117. I will do my best to take care of my body so I can live a long and productive life.  My life may be significantly shorter than I want it to be.

Part of me, up until a few days ago, believed that by  holding on long enough, I’ll be here for the rapture.  Jesus will come.  I’ll get twinkled.

I won’t have to die.

But, the truth is, unless I take my own life, which I’ve already determined won’t happen, I don’t get to pick when I die, or how long my journey will last.

I like to feel in control. Knowing that I don’t have complete control over my longevity makes me realize that I’m really not in control at all.

I faced several of my 40 fears last week.

I was spontaneous.  I took a road trip alone with my kids. I spent time with a childhood friend. I listened to other people’s problems. I spent most of my time with my sick and dying family members. I said goodbye to the home my dad and step-mom lived in for 25 years, and before they moved to a retirement community.

I returned home Sunday night exhausted physically and mentally. I have cried a lot over the past few days.

My dad has had health problems that have worsened over the past couple of years. He had to lean against the walls of his home and his crutches. He can barely walk.

My mom, who people constantly mistook for my sister for 20 years, is taking medication for high cholesterol and is on a strict Mediterranean diet. Her nickname used to be TAZ for the Tasmanian devil. She was constantly moving and full of energy. She now takes naps, and needs to rest often.

My grandpa didn’t recognize the people in any of his unlabeled, childhood family pictures and had me repeat a story 3 times to him over the course of 3 days due to his dementia.

My grandma couldn’t walk more than a few feet with her cane before her edema in her feet was too painful, and she was out of breath due to congenital heart failure.

I have a difficult time spending time with people who are terminally ill or dying because I don’t know what to say.

I am a fixer, and want to help make things better for them. I create solutions, and until technology catches up so artificial intelligence can store memories and personality, I can’t make someone live longer their time.

Spending time with people who are dying leaves me feeling powerless and vulnerable.

I usually handle my grief with action.

Last week, I took photographs and documented family stories. I asked questions about objects. I prepared meals. I talked and listened while trying to stifle mental comparisons of how time has changed the people I love.

I stayed busy so that I wouldn’t have to think about how I will cope with the not to distant someday when the people I love are dead.

Every moment and phone call I have with my family, I try to fill with importance.  I don’t know when the last I love you will come.

I believe in life after death, but living with the pain of physical loss can be overwhelming.

Managing the details of death, and moments separated from my loved ones are painful to cope with.

I drove home with boxes of stuff. Boxes of pictures and costume jewelry from my grandma. Boxes of china from my step-mom.  Brochures of graphic design work from my dad’s career. I also brought home my great uncle Max Goff’s legacy.

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Max Leroy Goff was my grandpa Wayne Goff’s younger brother.  He never married nor had children. Max served in the Air Force during WWII. He was an artist, and created ceramics. He spent his professional career as an in home caretaker to the elderly.

Max spent over a decade during his retirement years researching Goff family history.  He wrote letters to extended family members, and spent hours at family history libraries. He requested and paid for documents from historical societies.

Buried under some trash in my dad’s garage, before he moved, were 4 bankers boxes that are Max Goff’s legacy.

The boxes are labeled  by typed descriptions of their contents.  There are tabbed file folders grouped by generation of direct lines of Goff ancestors. There are separate boxes and files for collateral family lines. There are letters of correspondence from every family member he reached out to adding their recollections and documents to our Goff family history.

There was a neatly typed letter from Max when I opened one of the boxes.

…My original reason, among others for starting the genealogical project was to learn something about our ancestors. Too few people know about this sort of thing, and as a result are unaware what pleasure this knowledge can bring. Starting from ground zero, with practically no correct information, I feel I have a good start toward that goal. It is for us the living to be here dedicated to the furthering of this project, that I have thus far so nobly advanced…

I never met my great uncle Max Goff, but he left a rich, detailed genealogical history for me to preserve, add to and share.

Most of my family members do not have material wealth.

There are not valuable pieces of artwork, trust funds or antiques that I will inherit when they die. I have inherited  a priceless family legacy, and so can you.

Your family legacy is worth preserving… even if it can be overwhelming or painful. Your genealogy is worth recording, knowing, and sharing even if you don’t have children to share it with. The genealogical work that Uncle Max did has helped me and hundreds of other relatives know more about our ancestors.

It’s worth your time to record your genealogy and learn about your relatives even if it only serves as a cautionary tale for future generations like my Dysfunctional Miller family line. It’s so severe it needed a capital D.

True story.

I’m hoping to have the type of detailed genealogical records for my Millers someday that I have for my Goff family. I’ve pretty much started from ground zero, but am gradually building more information and records.

Uncle Max’s boxes have also made me think more about what my legacy will be in addition to genealogy.

Regardless of how much time that I have to spend living, until I am through with my work on this earth, I am working on creating something of value.

I am building a legacy of hope.

It’s never too late to change.

Facing your fears makes you brave, especially when you do it for people you love.

Genealogy Jen’s Challenge of the Week– Regardless of the point you are at in your life’s journey, you can work on establishing your legacy today. Andrew Carnegie was kind of a jerk, but no one really remembers that because he helped build so many libraries. How do you want to be remembered?  What will your legacy be?

Bonus Points – I know that you don’t want to do it, but work on some of the details of dying. Write a will.  Prepay for your casket and burial plot or cremation.  Write your own obituary. Give away your stuff before you die so you can tell the stories and no one fights about it after you’re gone. Also please, label your pictures. You might be alive a long time, but forget who people are like Grandpa Kohler.

 

 

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