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Remembering Loved Ones: Legacy Without Children or Grandchildren

The woman who was effectively my mother-in-law passed away on the 16th of October. This is a hard post to write because it brings up many feelings I wasn’t prepared to have.

For the first time in my adult life I wondered if I had made the right decision by not having children. Don’t get me wrong, I would have made a terrible mother. And having children because your mother-in-law wants you to is exactly the wrong reason to do so.

I believe she always wanted to be a grandmother. She stopped pressuring us pretty early on because she was an awesome woman. But, did I deny her an experience she should have had by not having children?

Of course, I know the answer intellectually. No, I didn’t deny her anything. She was a loving woman with room in her heart for many children. She was surrounded by extended family, the children of friends, and more. But reading her obituary that named her two sons and two daughters-in-law without reference to children made me wonder what other people thought about us.

Though, that’s the important part, right? We shouldn’t feel like having children is something we do for someone else. And since I never felt that it was something I wanted to do for myself, I chose not to do it at all.

Ultimately, I don’t regret that choice.

So how do we remember someone without the socially accepted legacy that results from children, grandchildren, and so on through the generations?

  • What is remembered, lives. Embracing spirituality and religion is one of the most common ways to work through grief. Within my own spiritual community, there is the common refrain that “what is remembered, lives.” That those who have gone before us can live forever if we only remember them. That means we need to share their stories. We need to be their ambassadors so others can know and honor who they were in life.

  • Pass down their heirlooms. My great aunt didn’t have children. As the second daughter of her eldest niece, she left me her fancy china and crystal when she passed away at age 90. But I have chosen not to have children myself. So, a few years ago when two of our closest friends were getting married, I wrapped up a portion of my great aunt’s crystal (keeping some for myself as well) and gave it to them. This means it can be passed on to their children, if they have them, or to someone else in the future.

  • Celebrate their birthdays. While October 16th will have a somewhat somber effect on us in the near future, we can take time to celebrate her birthday each year instead. Conveniently, her birthday falls on the first day of spring in March, so this is already a joyous time to honor life and rebirth. Adding her memory and her name to that celebration now will only enhance it.

  • Turn grief to activity. Everyone grieves differently. In our home sadness still comes in waves while we go back to our normal lives. We are a couple that loves doing things, so we are throwing ourselves into activities with friends and our community. Grief and memory can be turned into positive action as well. Maybe we’ll collect food for a local food pantry or donate money to a cause that she cared about. There are infinite ways we can turn our sadness into action that can make a positive impact.

These aren’t just thoughts that affect us as daughters or daughters-in-law. The truth is, one day we will also pass away. How do we want to be remembered? How do we want others to keep us in their hearts? Having these conversations can help us communicate this to our loved ones and chosen family in the future.

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