Did You Know We Die Two Deaths? What Will Be Your Legacy?
When we die, we die two deaths.
First, we physically die and leave this Earth. Then, the last time someone says our name or tells our story is the moment our second death occurs. In our family, we intentionally tell stories about us, each other and our ancestors so that we can extend the possibility of the second death being hundreds of years apart from the first.
Humans have been telling their stories since we could carve on cave walls and probably longer. Traditional knowledge handed down from generation to generation helped save ancient tribes from a deadly Tsunami.
And kids love for their parents to read them stories. Or, if you’re like my family, the kids LOVE hearing stories about their own relatives. In our Dare 2 Dad Playbooks, we actually built our “Family Trivia” by exploring our family history. I believe that when parents share this kind of information, they give their kids a foundation for understanding their place, conscious decisions on learned history and higher self-esteem for being part of something bigger than just themselves.
It is important to tell stories to our kids, but it is even more important to make storytelling a lifelong habit- a way of extending your second death.
May 3, 2018 will mark the second anniversary of my mother-in-law Gloria’s physical death on Earth. I’d like to extend her second death by sharing her story here now.
“I love you more.” It was her favorite reply to, “I love you” and it was true. She loved us in so many ways. Babysitting the kids, never missing their games or activities, being the first to arrive on Thanksgiving Day to start the preparations. Gloria was full of wisdom. When we got the news that we were pregnant again with a second set of twins, she told us that siblings were the greatest gift we could give our kids. In other ways, she was not your typical grandmother. She looked half her age, and could gallivant at a speed that tired her contemporaries. She loved the song, You are My Sunshine.
She also lived it. When we returned home on her babysitting nights, no matter how mischievous the kids had been, Gloria always said, “They were wonderful.” She was an early supporter of our Dare 2 Dad project. I would complain at the noise level of our kitchen during breakfasts when the kids were about 7, 7, 5, and 5. I would say it reminded me of a White House press conference. The ones where everyone yells until finally one voice breaks through. She would always gently remind me that I shouldn’t wish it away too soon. “You’ll miss the noise. And pretty soon all you will have will be that quietness.”
I was also her favorite. I forgot to tell you that story! She is the one that pushed Lisa to date me, even though Lisa had a boyfriend at the time. She would see me at school and tell Lisa, “That DJ Rezac is a handsome young man, Lis—you might want to look at dating him!” HA! So there is proof. I was her favorite son-in-law.
She was a wonderful example of a devoted wife, an unconditionally loving mother and an adoring grandmother.
Studies have confirmed the power and importance of storytelling. In the mid-’90s, psychologist Marshall Duke created the “Did You Know” scale to help explore myth and ritual in American families, asking children to answer a series of questions, such as, “Do you know where your parents met?” or “Do you know the story of your birth?”
Dominic and Carly were Gloria’s first grandkids so she was very close to them. On our recent family vacation, Dom brought her photo along. “I realized Mom’s been a little sad. So I brought Grandma’s picture.” What 14-year-old boy thinks like that? The 14-year-old who you talk to intentionally about their family.
In telling these stories, we are doing exactly what Atul Gawande talks about in his book Being Mortal. “As people become aware of the finitude of their life, they do not ask for much. They do not seek more riches. They do not seek more power,” Gawande writes. “They ask only to be permitted, insofar as possible, to keep shaping the story of their life in the world.”