My mother left me a lot of things – children’s books, family photos, reams of music, her heavily annotated copy of the Messiah, art, 19-year’s worth of teaching supplies, linens, more linens, my great-aunt’s Spode china, a love of Brubeck, sense of rhythm, and most importantly, the ability and desire to spontaneously burst into song.
But the one I treasure most is a newspaper clipping she kept taped to her computer monitor…
I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out
in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom
of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.
– Jack London
In 1998, my mother was running for a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives. A retired teacher, the church music director and organist, a CASA volunteer, a member of the Northeast Community Council, and a grandmother, she was, to put it gently, a singing Lutheran force of nature.
When her opponent won, frankly, I was relieved.
A few weeks before, I’d gotten the call – the cancer was back.
In 1989, when she was only a few years older than I am now, she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. In her usual efficient manner, she took care of business, took her treatment, refused my offers to come home and help, and in no time was back to saving the world. She barely skipped a beat.
This time it was different.
The cancer was discovered by accident, during an unrelated exam – ”and who is your oncologist?” her ophthalmologist asked.
The cancer had metastasized to her spine, and over the next five years would march on undeterred through her bones, lungs, liver and finally brain, yet she kept singing, and organizing, and talking and keeping people on their toes.
One particularly empathetic doctor told me, “I don’t know how to explain it, Anne, if we were to chop her up into little, itty bits and biopsy every one of those little, itty bits, we’d find cancer in every one of them. I don’t know how she keeps on going.”
My mother was supremely annoyed.
“I don’t know why everyone is acting like I’m dying,” she complained, “I’m not going anywhere.”
True to her word, she lived every single moment, right up until the one she died.
Naturally, today, when I heard the news of Elizabeth Edwards’ death, it reminded me of my mother and I felt for her children – the youngest of whom are the same age as my youngest two.
Many have criticized Elizabeth Edwards for being so outspoken, traveling, writing, and working while she had cancer – but I think, like my mother, she lived every moment up until the moment she died.
That is the best legacy any mother could leave her children.
Today’s practice: Be an example to your children, or friends; truly embrace this day.