All We Leave Behind Are Memories

There is a word in Portuguese that has no direct translation into English. However, it sums up how I felt during much of my recent trip home to Liverpool.

Although “saudade” has no equivalent word in my native language, I understand that it conveys the deep emotions we feel toward the people and things no longer with us. It is our emotional state when we think of someone who passed away, or when we ponder a lover, friend, family member, or object whose whereabouts are unknown. It is the love that remains after someone is gone.

Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo describes saudadeas, "a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy."

I experienced saudade as I shivered in the cold, damp air of the working-class port town where I grew up. Bare trees and withered flowers signaled the arrival of winter. They were stark reminders that summer is always a little too short in that part of the world. I trudged through the cemetery to where my dear mum lies six feet beneath the crunchy grass that lost its luster after the first frost.

Standing in front of her grave, I was infused with the mixture of nostalgia and melancholy. I felt waves of love and longing, happiness with shades of sadness. It's been 11 years since the world was taken from her, but sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday. The hole in your heart never heals completely. Things get better little by little, but the sense of loss is always there.

When I said the world was taken from Mum, it wasn’t a mistake She is still here in so many ways. It’s just that her physical body is no longer around. My mother was a true blessing to the planet. She always gave back and went out of her way to make people smile. When people like that pass on, the world misses them.

Mum loved her grub. She was always a heavyset lady, but that didn’t define her. A few minutes before she died, Mum weighed approximately 200 pounds. A few minutes after the life left her body – she still weighed 200 pounds.

That body was just a container for my mother’s spirit, essence, and soul. Those invisible, immeasurable parts of her lived on. A body can be cremated or given back to the Earth. But the “true us” goes on.

I know Mum’s spirit was with me on the day of her funeral. After enduring the long flight from America, I sat alone in the small bedroom I grew up in. Family gathered in our home as we waited for the funeral cars to fetch us. I couldn’t face them. My heart hurt, and my emotional tank was empty.

I finally pulled myself together and traveled with my family to Roby Church. We carried the coffin inside,and I perched on an old wooden pew. I can hardly recollect the start of the service. I just remember the priest asking me to come up and say a few words. I dutifully trudged up there, turned around, and saw for the first time that the church was packed. It was standing room only all the way to the back.

My lips quivered. The words weren’t coming to me, which is probably a shock to my friends and colleagues. For days I had tried to write something meaningful that celebrated Mum’s life. I was hoping the right thoughts would flow out when the time came. However, all I had were tears streaming down my face.

As I looked out at the gathering, it seemed like time was standing still. Then I heard Mum’s voice in my head. Her Liverpudlian accent implored me, "Bloody hell, Jon, make them laugh! Talk about some of the funny memories we created together."

And I did.

I shared several stories, and we all laughed throughour tears. We celebrated the true life of a woman who was naturally funny.

After the funeral, I met at least 30 strangers who toldme stories about Mum. They shared stories of her helping them through tough times, stories of how she would lend a sympathetic ear to people who just wanted someone to chat with. She was a kind, good-hearted listener who offered encouragement. She was everyone’s cheerleader.

As I stood there and listened to those stories, I realized I had been selfish. As a lad, there were times when I needed Mum and I felt like she wasn’t there for me. I didn’t understand why she would go off to bingo or spend time with friends.

Turns out they needed her as well.

She helped and inspired so many people. Sure it may have been over a vodka and Coke, or with a strip of paper full of numbers in front of her. That’s part of what Mum was meant to do. It was her journey. The good news for those that went before my mother is that now they have her in their presence. I know they must have been so happy to see her.

You never know when your time is going to be up. Doctors can project longevity by your current health and family history. But you never know.

Entrepreneur and Internet personality Gary Vaynerchuk once said that legacy is greater than currency. In his words, “How are you going to be viewed when it’s all said and done? Don’t worry about your bank account. Worry about how many people will show up to your funeral. Focusing on legacy will make material possessions like your salary, the size of your house, and your Maserati pale in comparison to how your kids and grandkids will think of you.”

I like Gary’s perspective. When I leave this beautiful planet, I only hope that I leave behind nothing but lovely memories for anyone whose path I crossed. What matters is the hope, kindness, inspiration, wholeness, love, laughter, and spirituality that I leave with my family, friends, and all of you.

How will you be remembered?

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© 2016 Jon Ashton