When we die, do we have a responsibility for those who remain?

Having recently lost my dad, the topic of death is closer than usual.  To be honest, as a health care professional who cares for many sick and elderly people, death is a frequent, familiar presence.  I've never been able to draw a clear boundary, and there is often a sense of grief in the back of my mind.  But when it's your own family there are additional nuances.

 

Family relationships can be complicated.  Being of a teutonic extraction, midwest / Great-Depression raised, WWII era, my Dad was not someone who expressed "feelings".  On the contrary, criticism was the natural form of communication and possibly of affection.  (although, living with someone who is definitely not WWII era, and being Chinese, not teutonic, the same mode of expression applies - maybe it's universal).  As a result, I kept much of my life a closed book to him, to keep the peace.  I think I've accomplished a lot, but to his dying day, my dad never said he was proud of me, or glad to have me as his son, or thank you, or you're a good boy. Of course, there have been triumphs, and tragedies that he never knew about because of that closed book - but plenty that he did know.  I never expected to hear any of those things, but now that he's dead, the finality of that denial is more acute than usual.

 

Which leads me to the responsibility of the dying, to the living.  Sorry, this world's not all about "you".  When you're gone, you're gone.  You can leave a heritage, even if you don't have money.  You can make a difference.  You can leave people with regret, with unanswered questions, with resentment, with disappointment.  Or you can leave them knowing that you cared about the bigger picture, not just what you wanted. 

 

I saw on one of the lists of "100 things to do before you die" there was "Plant a tree".  Bravo for that.

I hope the list also includes "Thank people who cared for you", "Choose the method of your corpse disposal wisely, and with care toward others",  and "Give someone a scholarship".  Maybe a few others.  And "Accept people for who they are", "Tell them you were proud of them".  I can think of others.  I cared deeply for my dad, but now that he's gone, there is disappointment as well. 

 

One thing I wanted to do for my dad was plant a tree.  Then I realized 2 things.  First, I already did that for him.  About15 years ago, he collected some ginkgo seeds from his neighborhood, which he gave to me.  I sprouted them in flower pots, then planted in my yard when I bought a home.  I have 3 of those trees now. One is becoming fairly large, and just starting to "think" about shading a patch of lawn.  The other thing I realized, is I don't think he would understand the idea of planting a tree in someone's honor - it's just planting a tree.

 

At some point, I'll need to think about what I leave for others.  It matters to me less that I do "100 things before I die" and more that, during the short while that someoneone remembers me, they remember me in a positive light.

 

Tags: heritage, responsibility

Views: 18

Replies to This Discussion

I am truly sorry that your father never spoke of being proud of you, or told you he loved you. That makes me profoundly sad. I may not know as much about you, as your friends outside of the web (or perhaps I do) but if I were to choose a person I care for, and respect, and truly like quite a bit, at the top of that list would be you.

Letting people know how much they mean to you is something that is done much too rarely, and I hate self-absorbed selfish people more than just about anything. Sometimes I don't leave the house because I can't handle encountering people. It takes so little to be kind, and it means so much. The little things like letting someone in front of me when I am driving (which I do quite a lot) and not getting a raised hand that conveys "thank you" is sometimes enough to make me feel homicidal.

When the lack of kindness comes from your immediately family, it's a tragedy, and even more so for someone like you. Not only are you a really good person, and deserved to hear praise, kindness, and love from your dad, you had it so difficult growing up in the environment where you lived, at least feeling welcome, and loved for who you are, and happy at home would have made life a lot easier for you. I'm sorry.

My mother's parents were like your father, and she still has severe insecurity and dreadful issues because of it, even though they died long ago.

My dad is the opposite, and even though I tell him it's too much, that he's too "mushy" and there were many times in my life (and still are) where it made me very uncomfortable, I know how fortunate I am. If I could give some of my dad's praise to you, I'd gladly do so. You deserve it.

You could have turned out just like your dad, but you didn't, and that is a very good thing. I wish you had not chosen a partner that had those same qualities, but I suspect that is what you were used to, even though it does not feel very good. Life is like that.

He had a responsibility to you, and he failed. Be proud of the fact that you won't do the same.

However you decide to remember your father, make sure it's for you. It does not matter if he wouldn't understand planting a tree (for instance). Now that he is gone, it's no longer about him. It's about you.
Sacha,
Thank you for your truly kind and thoughtful words. You are one of the main reasons I keep coming back to Nexus, your honesty and passion and compassion.
I recently lost my dad as well. He was a truly good person and a very generous man. So many people have told m how he changed their lives in a positive way. My dad didn't leave a lot of money, but he left a long line of love. He was not always this way. He decided to change who he was in his middle years and went from the man I was terrified of to someone I loved and cherished deeply. I know I was fortunate in my dad. I know he was a very happy person. I think it was harder loosing the person that he became than it would have been the person he was 20 years ago.

I am sorry your father never learned. He was fortunate to have such a dutiful and loving son. I am sure he was proud of you even if he never said so. Some people think telling you nice things will make you vain. *rolleyes*

You said your dad loved the library and donations were given in his honor there. It's not a tree and books don't last as long, but you could always talk to the library about having book plates made in his honor and glued in every book that those donations paid for. I have worked in several different libraries and this is a common practice. When anyone read or checked out a book with that plate in it, they would know this was done in his honor.

I know it is not the same as a tree or a living thing, but books were his passion so it would be fitting. The gift of knowledge is also a precious thing.

RSS

Support Atheist Nexus

Donate Today

Donate

 

Help Nexus When You Buy From Amazon

Amazon

 

© 2014   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: Richard Haynes.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service