As I am going through the hectic and unpredictable process of “digesting” the loss of my father, a friend, whom I deeply thank, recently suggested I read the book ” The beauty of what remains” by Steve Leder.
What a small yet poignant and life-changing book! I suggest everyone reads it, not just those who are experiencing the final days or the loss of someone dear to their heart. The author writes about sickness and death and while doing so he actually shows us the many ways that death can teach us how to live and love.
I am in the process of reading it and often need to pause for time to reflect, cry or smile.
He speaks about those who die leaving “no unfinished business”; which pulls me to the unfinished conversations I had with my father or the lack of presence I showed him at different stages of his life.
Steve Leder illustrates with true stories how most people will not change in the face of deep sickness or approaching death. People die the way they live. He recalls his late father, who suffered from Alzeihmer for ten years: ” He faced that slow, decade-long death and all its horrible indignities the same way he faced the painful indignities of his life – a mostly terrible marriage, a half century of aggravation with his brother, and plenty more – with a mighty and powerful silence…For him, for me and for most of us most of the time, for better and for worse, death is life’s mirror”.
Realizing now the irreversible deep silence and void that death creates has opened-up my heart in an unexpected way. I always felt that looking into a dog’s eyes, hugging a child, kissing my man or savoring the beauty of the nature would open-up my heart. I never expected that severe sickness and death of a loved one would have cracked it wide open.
The sadness linked to the absence of someone’s voice, the inability to hug that person and the realization of my own future death have made profound changes on my perception of life; my own and the ones who are close to me. I become more aware of how my ego has separated me from so many precious moments; meaningful and sometimes difficult, loving conversations, sacred glimpses of silence.
I want to celebrate happiness in unexpected places and grow my presence to myself and others. I want to cherish a meaningful life.
As Steve Leder beautifully writes : ” Most people think that the rabbi, minister, imam, family members, or friends write the eulogy for a person who has died. But do we really ? Did I really create my father’s eulogy or anyone else’s over all these years ? The answer, of course, is no. The profound and simple truth is that we are each writing our own eulogies every day with the pen of our lives”.
This is where lies the “Beauty of what remains”; in the cultural and emotional legacy those who have become like ether have gifted us and in the conscious creative process of our own legacy.
This brings me to the simple yet complex question: what has my father, what have my caregivers passed on to me ? What do I wish to pass on to my loved ones ? To strangers ? Which values, experiences, behaviors, words and moments of silence would I want to focus on ?
What do you want to pass on to the world ?
To your children, to your significant other, to your family, your friends, your colleagues, your community or even those reading your blog or Instagram posts, your Youtube or TikTok videos ?
We always get drawn to the experiences we need and I was surprised to find an inspiring book written in French ( my first language ) at my local library, written by a group of journalists, psychologists and spiritual leaders focusing on the topic “Transmettre”, which could be translated by a combination of ” Sharing” and “Legacy”.
The book purposely chooses to focus on the positive values, behaviors and experiences we can pass on to others, leaving on the side the dysfunctional behaviors, destructive beliefs or deep family secrets that can sometimes swallow people. The authors explain that sharing experiences is something we all do, all the time, without realizing it. What we do or do not do, what we say, what we don’t want to or forget to say are constant messages to the people around us.
Sharing makes us feel happy and gives meaning to our lives. The book states : Sharing is first giving for our heart to grow. Some people have been deprived from this type of love when growing-up, it reveals itself through behaviors and gestures.
Now more than ever I think about what my father has showed me, both consciously and subconsciously.
His love of music, dance, gourmet food. His ability to joke about anything. This rare gift of being able to be genuinely friendly with anyone, regardless of age, gender, social or cultural backgrounds and professional status. His need for structure and strong rituals.
Actions often speak louder than words, however, in a culture that highlights constant distractions and background noise, silence and stillness can sometimes be even more powerful. Being silent with someone else can be part of that legacy. Playing a specific piece of music for someone too.
I think about what my grandparents or great grandparents have taught me, even for those I did not get a chance to know well or even meet, but somehow I feel I did through storytelling. The stories we tell can have a profound impact on our perception of life and the values we will carry.
This brings me to the question lying in the title of this blog post : what do I want to pass on to the world ? This question gets an even more powerful weight in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.
What do you wish to give ? Who are your role models and why ?
Don’t let your limiting beliefs, your fears and the constant demands of our ultra connected world shut down your dreams and your heart, your potential for fun, joy, creativity and your daily opportunities to be a role model for those you connect with.
As late poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou said : ” Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud”.
I really like that section in the book ” Transmettre” that underlines a comment about Belgian psychiatrist Edel Maex who addresses people who wonder how they can share respect of themselves and others when it’s never been passed on to them. As a practicioner of zen buddhism and pioneer in mindfulness training in medical settings, he states that learning to meditate is a great way to start respecting yourself. It is time for yourself. It also helps you drop the compulsive need to be right and slowly allows you to open-up to the experience.