Leaving a Legacy That Lasts – by Jessica McDearman
As a young child, I dreamed of one day having a little girl to call my own. I practiced swaddling and rocking my favorite stuffed animals all the while carrying her name tucked away in a secret place in my heart. Many years later, even as I found myself deep in the desperation and sorrow of infertility, I never grasped the magnitude of how becoming a mother would change my life. It was only until I felt her warmth against my chest and danced her to sleep in the dark that I finally began to understand how motherhood was going to break my heart open and put it back together in the most beautiful of ways.
I felt a new sense of urgency as this chapter of my life was beginning. Facing chronic illness through the lens of motherhood has changed my perspective of my daily life and, ultimately, the future. How can I live my life today in order to leave a lasting legacy for my daughters?
Writing to remember
In the afterglow of having my first daughter, sleepless nights turned into exhausted mornings as I cradled, rocked, danced, and sang my baby to sleep. It was during these early hours of twilight that I became acutely aware of the passing of time. It’s true what they say – a lifetime goes by fast even when the days are long. Before I knew it, my daughter was changing before my very eyes, and I felt nostalgic for a time that wasn’t even over yet.
I decided I needed to document our days, so I created what I call my 365 journal. It started out simply enough. Every night, I would write out something beautiful that I wanted to remember for that day. I wrote about the warmth of the sun on my skin during the early coolness of spring. I wrote about catching a special song playing over the speakers at the grocery store. I recalled the relief of having an anxiously-awaited doctor’s appointment go smoothly. I wrote about my daughter’s squeal whenever her daddy would come home from work and greet her with open arms. I described her eyes sparkling in excitement as she learned how to crawl, then hold my hand, then walk. On many days, I recounted the seemingly countless (but never enough) hours I held her peacefully against my chest while the world outside our window kept turning.
To this day, those hours just between us are still some of my most cherished memories. Even on my hardest days, I could always find something to write. As time marched on, each daily entry became a little puzzle piece that fit together to paint a picture of my life in that season. It became a bittersweet snapshot of what I held most dear to my heart and how my life was changing with each passing day.
Letters to my daughters
As my daughter’s first birthday quickly approached, I searched for a special way to commemorate the occasion. I discovered the idea of creating a time capsule. I asked family members to write my daughter a letter to be opened on her 18th birthday. Some even included small trinkets like special jewelry or a favorite book. The time capsule is tucked away in a safe place not to be opened for many years, but the idea left an impression on me. There are words sealed and waiting to be read from loved ones who have since passed away.
Though my daughter won’t remember time spent with them, their words live on to encourage her and love on her once again. Now, not only do I write my daughters letters every year on their birthday, I also write to them throughout the year as well. I had two notebooks specially made, and I fill the pages with prayers, stories, words of hope, favorite song lyrics and poems, life lessons, and all the love I can put into words. When I’m gone, I hope my daughters are able to find pieces of my heart left between the lines.
Memories in time
In the thick of motherhood, I promised myself I would always remember the little details I could never imagine forgetting. I wanted to hold onto the way their first curls cascaded down the nape of their neck and how their tiny dimpled hands fit so perfectly into mine. I wanted to bottle up the way their eyelashes danced while they dreamed and their lips curled into a smile when they awoke. It is said that oftentimes, we don’t realize the significance of a moment until it becomes a memory. As much as I wanted to hold onto every little detail in those early years, I found that they were quickly fading like leaves in the fall.
I turned back into that little girl holding a Polaroid and snapping away at everything I loved – wildflowers growing in the sidewalk, my first dog curled up in my lap, the waves upon the beach during summer vacation. Instead, now as a mama, I had a new muse and a grander purpose for capturing memories. Now my scrapbooks are filled with popsicle smiles, little arms wrapped around stuffed animals, muddy knees, bare feet, and flower braids.
Most of all, I wanted my girls to remember that mama was there – not just behind the camera – so I made a point to include myself even on the hard days. Every snapshot is a step back in time – a memory you can hold and feel the snuggles, the laughter, the exhaustion, the pride, and the adoration.
The beautiful in-between
One day, I passed the sign at the little white church down the road and was taken aback. On the sign was the question “How does a child spell love?” with the letters “T-I-M-E” at the bottom. As painful as it is to think about, our journals, letters, and photographs will one day have all but faded away. What will be left in their place? In the end, our children won’t remember the grand gestures and gifts wrapped in pretty paper. It’s the beautiful in-between moments – stealing a glance as they search for your face in a crowd, enjoying a picnic in the summer sun, holding hands while cuddling up for a bedtime story, singing at the top of your lungs on a road trip, and laughing around the kitchen table. I want my daughters to know that I delighted in them and enjoyed their company more than anything else in the world.
A legacy of love
As a mother, I’ve asked myself the hard question many times – late at night when my little one won’t sleep, on the particularly hard days when I feel like I am failing, and even in my happiest moments. When I’m gone, how do I want my children to remember me? What we do day to day becomes our life and ultimately, becomes our legacy. Am I living in a way that will leave my daughters with a legacy of love? I remind myself often that I have the ability to not settle for anything less than what will serve my children now and echo through generations to come. I can stay in pursuit of the small things that my daughters will carry with them through life. As the seasons change, love will be the only thing untouched by time.
Growing up with cystic fibrosis, I always felt a sense of urgency to accomplish something bigger than myself. Living with an unknown expiration date felt like being on the edge of an impending storm. Motherhood lifted the ominous clouds of my life and left me with the courage to make every day count. My daughters are my greatest legacy. I’ve learned to embrace my perfectly imperfect story because it’s real, it’s devastatingly beautiful, and it’s mine.