I have decided to make a former client my role model. I met him half a dozen years ago, when he was in his early eighties and moving to a retirement community. As we began planning his move, he said, “I lost my wife three years ago. Sorting through our belongings makes me feel like I am losing her all over again—I wish I could go away and come back after the move.”
And so he became our first “I’d rather go on vacation” moving client. Since then, I have often thought about his ability—and his willingness—to articulate his feelings and take a course of action that worked for him.
I met him again several years later and learned that he had moved to a different apartment in the community, to be near a woman he had met. “She introduced me to the literary club,” he said. “It consists of me and five women. We meet every Thursday before dinner, laugh, drink and talk about no literature.” Then he continued, “She is a very interesting woman – an artist.” The door to her apartment, across from his, bore a sign, “Outrageous older woman lives here.” He introduced me to her. The sign was appropriate.
The former director of a multi-hospital system, my client still taught in the graduate program he had helped found at a nearby university and had lunch regularly with current and former students. Before I left, he confided, “This move [to the retirement community] has so exceeded my expectations. I never expected that my ninth decade would be so rich, stimulating and enjoyable.”
I met with my former client again a few weeks ago. Sadly, I learned that his friend, the artist, had passed away. He was on his way to the chess club, where he and other members meet regularly with the chess club of an inner city high school. He was leaving soon, he explained, for the second half of an oral history project conducted by the American Hospital Association. They had interviewed him in 1980 in recognition of his leadership role in the industry, and they wanted to meet with him again, twenty-eight years later. In preparation, he was reviewing his professional accomplishments since that time.
I thought to myself, the oral history people have it all wrong. What is important here is not his contribution to the health care industry; it’s the way he lives life now. A typical baby boomer, I plan to work forever, but when I am in my eighties, I hope I’ll have the same comments about my ninth decade, and that I will form new, meaningful relationships, laugh, be engaged with community and give back to others. A legacy is not something you leave, I have decided, it’s something you make. My former client is my role model because he has made a great one. I hope I can do the same.
As a Senior Move Manager, I see all sorts of client treasures, so it has made me think about my own l treasures as well. If you went to my home, you probably would not notice my treasures, even though they are in plain view. That’s because they look ordinary. They don’t have a lot of material value. They’re my treasures because they have special meaning to me.
My first treasure is a common blue and white mug — a souvenir from a trip to the Bahamas with my friend Karen when we were both single. For years, the mug had no special meaning; I kept it on my desk to hold pens. Eight years later, at 36, Karen was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. She died at 38. During this same time period, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, except 21 years later, I am alive and well. It seems so arbitrary; it is hard to make sense of it. So over time, that ordinary blue has taken on new importance. It reminds me of Karen, yes, but even more, it reminds me how lucky I am. I went on to raise a family, to start a business, to help found an industry. That’s one thing about personal treasures. They may not start out as a treasure; they can evolve.
Another one of my personal treasures is a large, framed needlepoint that hangs above my desk. My mother did the needlepoint as a girl in Hungary. She told me how they gathered together to embroider, and one person would read aloud while the others sewed. She ran out of red in the final corner and substituted pink. I love this imperfection. When I graduated from college, my mother had the needlepoint framed and presented it to me as a graduation gift, and that’s when it became a personal treasure. My mother came to America when she was 12, and was put back a grade so she could learn English. When she was 17, she caught TB and spent a year in a sanitarium. By the time she was released, she was two years older than her classmates and never returned to high school. Growing up, I knew my mother never went to college, but I was in my twenties when I realized she had never finished high school. Her brother, my uncle, went to college and became a physician.
Like many baby boomers, I grew up knowing I was expected to go to college. But for my mother, it was more than an expectation, it was a need. I knew how much it bothered my mother that she did not have an education, and how much pleasure she took from my academic successes. From the time I was in junior high, I asked her to read every novel I loved so we could discuss it together. Over the years, we shared dozens of books we laughed and cried over. If in part she lived thru me, I didn’t mind; I enjoyed her support and was happy to give her pleasure. So when my mother unwrapped the needlepoint, I knew it was the perfect gift. It was our graduation gift, hers and mine together.
As I think about my personal treasures, I realize that I have neglected something important. They are personal treasures, it’s true, but I have kept their meaning personal and private too; I haven’t shared their story. That’s why I am sharing it with you now, and why I will share it with my children. Perhaps that is the real value of personal treasures — the story behind them that only you can share. Because when all is said and done, passing on who you are is the most important legacy you have.