Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Who will remember me... and care about my stuff?

Mel at Stirrup Queens had another thought-provoking post today about remembrance and how writing about the people we knew and loved helps us to honour & preserve their memory. (And how we need to hear good things about ourselves from other people BEFORE we're gone.)

In one of the comments, Jill says, "I have this fear of being forgotten."

I think that's one of the things that bothers me about not having children. Even more than "Who will take care of me when I get old?" (I figure there will always be nursing homes, etc., that will make sure that at the very least I don't starve.)

But who will REMEMBER me when I'm gone?

I will have no children or grandchildren to perpetuate my memory.

My sister does not & will not have any children.

Dh's brother has two teenaged boys. I love them dearly, but (perhaps because they are boys) they are closer to dh than I am. My fear is that dh will die first & they will forget about me and leave me to languish in a nursing home without any visitors.

I have tried to reach out to the children of my two (only two)(both male) cousins on my mother's side… but it's been hard to establish a relationship with them. I spent lots of time with my cousins at our grandparents' when we were kids -- but we live far apart and, once we got into high school and then university, and then married & started families, we never seemed to be visiting our grandparents at the same time any more. There was a 10-year stretch, between 1988 and my grandparents' funerals in 1998 & 1999, when I did not see them, & I've seen them only three or four times since then, although I get Christmas cards from them and the occasional e-mail (from the one in particular).

My mother sees them more often, & calls them occasionally, as well as hearing about them via my uncle (her brother), & keeps me posted on what they're up to. But I really don't know their kids very well at all (although I feel like I do, by virtue of our relationship, & like I should). This makes me sad.

Beyond being remembered, I've long struggled with the idea of "who will inherit my things when I'm gone?" Most of it will go to our nephews -- but there are some things that came from my family and would mean absolutely nothing to them -- for example, the knickknacks from my grandmother's kitchen that now reside in mine, the ceramic topper from my grandparents' wedding cake, the pictures of my extended family members. The logical answer to me would be to give these things to my cousins' children. Each cousin has a girl & boy (most of them now teenagers); my younger cousin also has a stepdaughter from his wife's first marriage.

I've written previously about my older cousin's daughter, who bears an eerie resemblance to my sister & me, went from toddler to teenager. She got pregnant as she was finishing high school (!) and, now 21, has two little girls who also look very much like my sister & I did at the same age (and, perhaps, how my own daughter would have looked). She was my grandparents' first great-grandchild and spent a lot of time with them growing up. She was 12 when my grandfather died & 13 when my grandmother died, so she remembers them -- better, I'm sure, than the younger ones.

For my "golden" birthday, when I turned 12, my grandmother gave me her Class of 1934 high school ring. I treasured it, and wore it right up until I got married.

Three years ago, when my older cousin's daughter was graduating from high school (pregnant), I decided she should have it, as a high school graduation present. I knew I would see my uncle, her grandfather, on my vacation -- so I retrieved the ring from the safety deposit box, wore it for one more week, kissed it as I took it off my finger for the last time, & wrapped it up carefully with a card that contained my grandmother's high school graduation photo & a note saying that I wanted her to have this & I thought Grandma would too. I said that perhaps someday she could tell her soon-to-be-born daughter about Grandma & Grandpa, and how much they loved us all. And I gave it to my uncle to give to her.

I never received a thank-you note or any acknowledgement of the gift whatsoever. I'm wondering whether I should try something similar with my younger cousin's daughter when she graduates, & see whether I get a better response. If so, then I'll know who the rest of the stuff should go to. ; ) If not… well, I still think the stuff relating to that part of my family should go to them. But it would be nicer, knowing that someone else appreciates it in the same way that I do.


  1. That is so crappy that you didn't get any response at all about the ring. What an incredible gift. If I had received something like that, I don't know if I could let go talking about it.

    I think we all have the chance (as my professor did who died without children) to be remember linearly (in his case, by a friend who was also a writer). And once preserved in writing, remembered indefinitely as people read our words or words about us.

  2. You know I have those same feelings.

    I have my grandfathers baby locket. Inside is a photo of my husband, and the strip from my first + pregnancy test. Who will want that?

    On the flip side, we may not have a biological link but we have left our foot prints in other ways. There is a legacy we leave behind, we just don't know what it is, or who holds on to it just yet.

  3. Have you ever thought of inviting one of your younger relatives to spend 4 days or a week with you? Or go on a trip to see them? You should have enough senerioty at work to have vacation time.

    Triple S' family is very spread out (distance- at least 6 countries,3 continents and age- cousins range from 9 to 50 yrs) but they are close in a way, and most have all met each other. The internet, places like FaceBook, helps a lot, and I try to get him to keep in touch.

    One of his older cousins is very into the younger ones, she will never have kids, but she is a special cousin and auntie to many.

    As far as special family heirlooms, appreciation does not necessarily follow whether it is your child or not. It takes someone who is interested int he stories you have to tell, but you have to tell them. I always loved the stories of my grandmother and aunt (my grandpa's sister), but I doubt that my aunt's kids care, and many of her and the older family's things have likely been pitched since her death last year. I would have prized the most worthless junk...

    My point is, you are the adult and should take the initiative with these kids, and maybe one will be interested in the things that you know, and you may find great joy in having them and their children in your life. One of them may become a family tree nut like yourself- and even take interest in your side of the family.

    (sorry- this got kinda long-lots of issues in here)

    Also, I have been thinking/reading memoir lately. Have you ever thought of this? You seem to have the memory for it. Even essays t literary journals...

    Check out this book- The Tender Land by Kathleen Finneran. I met the author. The story is about her brother and her family. She has no children. I guess this is her legacy, and it is beautiful.

    ok, sorry, it got longer!

  4. You know, I also wanted to say something about the idea of having kids so that someone can take care of you when you are old.

    From time to time, I have heard people say something along these lines. i always thought that was a very selfish reason to have kids. You are only having kids so that someone takes care of you when you are old? What if the kid is a jerk? Well, maybe they are a jerk because you had them to take care of you? I don't know, that has never been my mentality. Like you said, there are services, and you have to take care of the finances anyway. Anyway, that's never been my mindset, and I guess it kind of bothers me when I hear people say that's what their kids are for (even jokingly)

    Also also, there are many people that have touched my life, thru my childhood, that I still carry warmly in my heart. Girl Scout troop leaders, Sunday school teachers, some that never had their own children, but who were very important to me. They are remembered.

  5. It is very disheartening to hear you didn't get a response for such a thoughtful gift. My grandmother died before I knew her, so my great-grandmother filled in and I treasure her things.

    You may be surprised at the relationships you continue to make in your life. I adopted two Maine Coon cats 10 years ago from a breeder the same age as my grandfather. We kept in communication and somehow became very close. She has four daughters of her own and tons of grandchildren. Her grandchildren are a little bit younger than me, but she has told me more than once that she is closer to me than any of them. She moved away recently and I miss her terribly, I've only gotten to visit her once but we keep close contact via email and Skype

  6. Who are the girl's parents? They obviously didn't teach her any manners. I find that young people today are more likely to send you an email than an actual thank you note. I quit sending my nieces or nephew anything because I got tired of not receiving any acknowledgements year after year. I still love them, but due to my sister's lack of care, they never displayed much common sense or consideration.

  7. It's too bad that the girl didn't acknowledge your gift. Perhaps she will at some point in time. I know I'm certainly a lot better at sending thank-you letters than when I was in high school. Or maybe her daughter will be more sentimental than she is.

    One of the books listed in my sidebar-- I think it's "Beyond Childlessness" -- mentioned the satisfaction to be derived from making a will. But that doesn't entirely answer the question of remembrance, or what to do with the smaller but meaningful items and family heirlooms.

  8. I'm shaking my head about the ring. No thank-you note or acknowledgment at all seems incredibly rude.

    That said, though it may not be practical, you might be able to convey a bit more about the meaning of the items if you present them in person, explaining what they mean and where they come from. I imagine this happening during a special time together, perhaps a fancy lunch or dinner or in a beautiful natural setting, so the whole thing becomes a memorable event.

    Just an idea. Ignore it if it doesn't work for you.

  9. I've been mulling the same thoughts in my mind too...after I am gone, who will understand what all the heirlooms and trinkets mean? Who will care about why some items are so meaningful and precious while others can be readily given away?
    For myself, I imagine if I don't have children, my belongings will go to my cousins and their children, rather than to my direct nieces and nephews from my DH's side, b/c my belongings would carry more meaning for them, as they have been inherited down through their family...
    Hard questions to answer...and I don't know the answers...
    How unfortunate your gift was not acknowledged. Perhaps some people don't place value on sentimentals, but you should at least have gotten a thank you.

  10. As Frank Barone used to say.... "HOLY CRAP!" I can't (but can) believe you never got any acknowledgement for such a precious and invaluable gift. I would be so tempted to ask for it back. What a precious heirloom to be wasted.
    I also struggle with who will care about me or remember me when I am gone if I don't have kids. I also see kids as my contribution to the world although I think that's misguided and I am trying to change how I think about that.

  11. That is a really tough one. I think your idea of testing the waters with the other young woman is a great idea. My husband has a great uncle who didn't have children. A few years ago, he really, really surprised me by giving me a simple gold wedding band that he found on a battle field in Germany during World War II. He's been holding onto it for all these years and, I guess because of a variety of conversations I've had with him, decided to entrust it to me to return to the same place in Germany. I'm not blood related to him at all and feel so completely lucky to have been entrusted with this! I do not know who will be the person to inherit your most precious possessions but I am certain that the right person will present themself at some point.

  12. Hi Loribeth -

    I feel a post coming on...but I have been thinking a lot about these very issues for the last year or so.

    What I have come to is that most people and their lives are quickly forgotten. The process probably takes longer in larger families, but really, how many people are really remembered?

    Anyway, as others have said, important items can be passed on to "unrelated" people and carry their meaning into the future.

    You just never know who views you as important to them. We meet so many people, often not relatives, with whom we feel a connection that is significant. I think that those of us without children of our own need to cultivate those relationships. Those people will cherish our things and the stories that go with them.


  13. I've thought about this a lot too, since my grandmother passed things down to me and my mom (as only daughters). I wonder if my nieces would even appreciate some of these things.

    and I agree with what everyone's said about the ring. what a shame. I do think conveying the story behind it is important.