A few weeks ago one of my long-time friends died unexpectedly. I had known her for at least twenty years, probably longer. She was a wonderful woman who taught me a lot. She was also, as of a couple years ago, single again.
Elle and her (now ex) husband had chosen not to have children. She had no living relatives that we knew of. The church had a memorial, but there are only friends left to mourn her.
This has forced me to think about one of the fears that lingers in my mind. It’s a fear that I usually don’t acknowledge, for a lot of reasons. I don’t know whether it’s a valid fear. I don’t know if it’s a selfish fear. I don’t know if it’s a reasonable fear. And on top of it all, it’s a fear I know how to rectify.
I’m afraid that, as a single and child-free woman, I will leave no legacy when I die.
What if I die without publishing the novels I have written? What if I die with no one to name in my will? What if I die and people around me are left asking, “Who will make the arrangements?” “Is there any family we can call?”
What if no one remembers me after I’m gone?
You can see why I usually avoid thinking about this. But losing Elle so young (she wasn’t even fifty), when her situation is in many ways similar to my own, I have to wonder. So I’m left trying to examine this fear in the light of day.
Is this a valid fear?
After all, I have plenty of friends, many of whom have children. I first met Elle when she and her husband came to my parents’ Bible study. As I grew older, she became my friend as much as my parents’ friend. She made a lasting impression on me, and my life is made less by her passing. Can’t I become to my friend’s children what Elle was to me?
I’m an only child, but I have young cousins whom I feel I have helped shape, since they were born while I was in my twenties. They seem to enjoy spending time with me. They seem to care what I think of them. The elder cousin friended me on Facebook and lists me publicly as family, so he must not be ashamed of me! Can’t I choose to make them part of my legacy?
Is this a selfish fear?
Do I really have the right to care what people think of me when I’m dead? After all, according to my beliefs, I’ll be with Jesus after death, and won’t care at all what is said of me after, as long as He says, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” So clearly this is an earthly fear, a human fear.
But then again, Abraham was concerned with his legacy. I’m reading Genesis right now, and a lot of time is spent talking about how God will build a great nation from Abraham’s descendants–not just Isaac, but Ishmael too. If one of the heroes of my faith worries about the legacy he leaves behind, don’t I have the right to worry too?
Still, what is it I’m most concerned about? Am I concerned that people will forget me? Am I concerned that they remember me as a great writer? Am I concerned that they’ll remember me as a loving friend? Or am I just concerned that there are people out there in the world who will grieve when my time on this earth is through?
I honestly don’t know what it is that scares me about dying with no legacy, but the fear is real.
Is it a reasonable fear?
I don’t know. Then again, it’s more reasonable than my paralyzing fear of spiders. I know they won’t harm me, but I’m so petrified of them that I can’t even bring myself to get near enough to kill them. It’s more reasonable than my lingering fear of velociraptors, courtesy of Jurassic Park and its sequels (I know, I know). It’s more reasonable than my fear that I can never live up to what my parents expect of me.
But here’s the kicker: It’s a fear I know how to rectify.
It’s an easy one to address, on the surface. If I’m afraid of dying alone, maybe I should get married and have kids.
Of course, that would require a complete shift in my thinking. From my earliest days as a kid, playing with the neighbors, I always refused to play house. If I absolutely had to play house or risk losing my playmate, I would insist on being the daddy. Why? Because daddies got to leave the house and be away from the kids for long periods of time. If I couldn’t be the daddy, I’d be the big sister, because big sisters obviously weren’t the same as mommies.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a wonderful mom. She’s my best friend. She stayed at home until I was in 4th or 5th grade, and then took a job that allowed her to be home most of the time that I wasn’t in school. She played with me, read with me, taught me. I honestly can’t imagine having a better mother than mine. But her dreams and goals for life are not my dreams and goals for life.
My mom grew up wanting to be a housewife. I didn’t. Maybe that’s partly her fault, because she raised me to believe I could be anything I wanted to be, and she never tried to tell me I would change my mind about wanting kids.
So what it comes down to is, even if I marry someday, I don’t want to have kids. For that matter, at my age I’m getting to the point where, unless God sends someone over tomorrow with a string of camels and rings for my fingers and nose, I’ll be too old to go through courtship and marriage in time to have many safe child-bearing years anyway.
Anyway, Elle was married for a long time. But her marriage ended. Things in life aren’t always permanent. And marriage is no guaranteed fix for loneliness anyway. Children are supposed to take care of their parents in old age, but there’s no real guarantee of that, either.
So what do I do?
I don’t know. Maybe I spend time cultivating my friendships with younger generations. Maybe I pray and try to get over this fear. Maybe I bury it again until I experience another loss.
Am I the only one who has this fear? Do any of you feel this way too?
Let me know.