Warmest Regards: What legacy will you leave behind?
She’s far too young to be thinking about dying.
But ever since a dire diagnosis changed her life, my close friend Ann thinks constantly about her own demise.
To look at the physically fit, attractive blonde, she looks like the perfect picture of health. And that’s one reason why she believes doctors didn’t take her seriously when she kept saying “something’s wrong.”
They diagnosed her chest pain as anxiety and gave her Xanax.
“They actually kept telling me how good I looked and how healthy I was,” she said.
Thinking the chest pain might be related to her heart, she went to the top cardiac practice in our area where their conclusion was the same: They could find nothing wrong.
When she got intolerable headaches during a weekend vacation, she was rushed to a hospital where she was fortunate enough to encounter a superb neurologist.
But his news stunned her. Ann had a brain aneurysm and an uneven more serious aortic aneurysm. Because of its size and the risk of sudden rupture, she was told she is in danger of instant death.
As a health care professional, she is all too aware of what can happen.
While she waits for surgery with a noted surgeon, she says she can’t help but think about death.
“If I don’t make it through all this, I wonder what people will remember about me. Will they even remember me?” she asks.
While I know she has a long road ahead of her, I believe with all my heart that she will make it and eventually will continue to help others.
She’s one of the most caring people I know. I’ve watched her reaching out time and again to those who are troubled or hurting.
After our conversation about being remembered, I’ve been thinking about the way we each leave behind our legacy after we pass on.
Another Ann was one of the first women I met when I moved to Florida. Because Ann Dever did so much to make our community better, a swimming pool and huge recreation park is named after her.
When she knew she was dying, she said she wasn’t going to stop doing as much as she could for others - for as long as she could.
Even in the throes of her cancer treatments she managed to start a backpack program for kids who might have gone hungry without the food Ann and her committee packed into each backpack.
Until the day she died she was passionate about helping children in need.
While some will say the recreation building named after her is her legacy, I think her legacy is the hope and joy she instilled in the hearts of children.
My dear friend Bobbi Sue Burton had the same goal as Ann. Her life was devoted to helping others.
When doctors wanted to give her morphine for the cancer pain that racked her body, she refused because it would make her too groggy to help others.
“I want to do as much good as I can for as much time as I’m given,” she said.
When she could no longer stand up because of pain, she still called around until she found a used washing machine urgently needed by a single mother of four small children.
Later that night, she and her volunteers put on a pot luck dinner for the homeless and lonely.
There are no monuments dedicated to Bobbi Sue - unless you count the gratitude of many, many hearts.
My Aunt Rose was one of those people who helped others constantly, but she shied away from taking credit.
There is a monument to her that will never go away. That monument is the love in my heart for her and the way her life has inspired me to serve others.
You can get an idea about how she refused to take credit for anything by my “no dress” story.
With two small children and absolutely not one spare dollar in our budget, buying anything new for me was out of the question.
I only had one dress nice enough for a big family wedding. It was black, not suitable for a wedding but it was all I had.
One evening my Aunt Rose called and asked me to stop by to do her a favor. When I got there she literally threw a gorgeous dress at me and asked me to “take it out of her sight.” She claimed she bought it for her daughter-in-law who didn’t want it.
It was a flimsy story but she would never say, “Here, I bought this for you.”
When she died at 44 from an allergic reaction to penicillin, I thought I would never stop crying.
At the viewing, strangers poured into the room wanting to tell our family how Rose quietly helped them in extraordinary ways. In one case, she paid the rent for a family about to be evicted and found a job for the father.
It is said that a legacy is something we leave behind after we are gone. It is often money, an inheritance, or an endowment of some kind.
Or, in the case of Ann Dever, Bobbi Sue Burton and my Aunt Rose, the legacy is a lifetime of good works.
A legacy of good works can linger as long as memory remains.
Contact Pattie Mihalik at firstname.lastname@example.org.