The Musings of a Work In Progress

Stories to Remember

An Unexpected Legacy

February 6, 2019

With our End-of-Life coaching and Legacy Planning services launching, I have been thinking and talking about the word legacy often. Our legacy is our story and our history handed down from generation to generation after we are gone. Some of us plan our legacy and others leave an unintentional legacy behind; but no matter who we are, we always leave something of ourselves. What you leave is entirely in your hands.

I’ve been called to share a story of a brave yet troubled woman that created an unintentional legacy of hope and healing.

Joyce was an alcoholic with an eighth-grade education. The history that brings us to this conversation is tough to hear and I’m sure was tougher to live.

Born in the 1940s, she was raised by a single mother with Muscular Dystrophy and served as her sole caregiver. In her home life, she suffered severe physical and emotional abuse. Her father, a first-generation American born to Italian immigrants was in and out of her life in the formative years. He loved her but could only show her through working hard and supporting the family as many men did in the ’40s and ’50s. She hoped and dreamed that one day they could be a family together, but it never happened.

The stories surrounding her abuse were horrific. As she grew older and started school, friends were hard to come by even though she yearned to belong. She was shown early in life that people could be cruel and children in school were no exception. Her forage into grade school was tough to bear, she would often show up with belt and buckle marks across her face and body and be ridiculed for her ill-fitting clothes and appearance. Remember, this was the 1940’s and what happened in the home was often considered the business of the parents and other adults didn’t get involved. Through all of this, she was relegated as the eldest born child to go home and care for a mother that beat her for every perceived infraction.

At barely 17, she had her first child and another almost 14 months later. Life with the children’s father was as challenging as living with her mother. Eventually, she left and was now a single mother with two young children. Sometime later and after a suicide attempt, she remarried and had another child. It was the 1970’s now and things were changing but the perception that a woman needed a man to take care of her was still prevalent. Feeling relieved now that she was a little older and had a man to support her three kids she was hoping that things would finally be better, but for her, they were not.

Unhappy in her marriage and feeling trapped, she began drinking heavily. This nightly ritual was meant to shield herself and she hoped that no one would be affected if it happened when everyone was asleep, under the cover of darkness. Unfortunately, her reasoning was flawed and it still affected everyone greatly.

She eventually stopped drinking and after a second divorce, she wanted to achieve the things that seemed out of reach before. She found her independence by becoming employed and since she never had a high school education, decided to pursue her GED. She took her test and failed by two points in the math portion. She was devastated and chose not to retake the test because in her mind, this just proved that she just wasn’t smart enough, good enough or just enough in general.

She went through the rest of her life doing the best that she could. She always hoped and strived to be better and to do better than she had in the past but was haunted by her history. After a long bout with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, she passed away at the young age of 61.

Based on her history, you may be asking what kind of legacy a life like this leaves behind.

Her legacy: HOPE. No matter what happened in her life, she woke up with the hope that one day things would be better. Better for her, better for her family and better for the world. Every day she put one foot in front of the other and moved to be better. Some days she stumbled, some days she shined, but every day, no matter what, she got up and tried.

My mother’s legacy of hope lives on in me, my siblings, her grandchildren and all those that knew her. We strive every day on a conscious and unconscious level to be better and have hope, these were the lessons learned from her. 

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