“She made the best chocolate chip cookies.”
Everyone in the room agreed. Her cookies were the absolute best. They were the perfect ratio of crispy edge to chewy middle. Soft, but not doughy. Crisp, but not too crunchy. Buttery and sweet, with just the right amount of chocolate chips. If you wanted the perfect cookie, she was your girl.
Normally, this would have been a kind compliment. But as we sat in the cold little church that November afternoon in rural Michigan, it was nothing short of tragic.
The words still haunt me today.
“She made the best chocolate chip cookies.”
My aunt lived a difficult life. She did the best she could with all of her challenges- that’s all any of us can do. She raised four children without a partner to help. She worked her whole life beside her mother and sister at the family business. She lived in poverty, and did what she had to do to survive as a single mother with no education. She was tough as nails, but sadly, addiction ruled her. She lost her life to an accidental opioid overdose, just years after losing a son to suicide.
When she died, a handful of friends and family gathered in the tiny corner church near my family’s farm to say goodbye. The minister of the church gave an odd little service- a mix of things from the Christian Bible, and Janis Joplin music. (She would have loved the second one.)
When we reached the part of the service where the preacher asked if anyone would like to stand up and say a few words about the dearly departed, the room was silent and still. We looked around waiting for someone speak.
The preacher began coaxing us. She was a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend. Surely, someone there wanted to stand and share something– a memory, a story, something we would miss without her presence on this earth. Surely, after approximately fifty trips around the sun, somebody wanted to say something. Anything.
“She made the best chocolate chip cookies, ” someone finally offered.
Heads began to nod in agreement. “She sure did,” someone added.
Her surviving children were called upon to speak briefly about their mother before we were ushered into the little room behind the sanctuary for the Midwest version of a covered dish supper.
I stayed behind for a moment with my sister. We approached the little box on the altar that held my aunt’s ashes. I was so sad– not because she died. I was sad because in those moments I realized that she never really lived. She left the earth in debt and disease, having scarcely ventured past the corners of the family farm. Her legacy was a cookie she made from a recipe printed on the back of a chocolate chip bag.
When I returned to Texas after that sad trip home, I began thinking about my own legacy.
What will people say about me when I die?
Will I have lived a life worth remembering?
Will my children have fond memories of me?
Will I have made a mark on the world that will last when my physical body is gone?
Will my life have meaning and purpose beyond my front door?
In my heart of hearts I know my aunt’s life had purpose and meaning beyond her cookies. (Did I mention they were damn good cookies?) But, when it really mattered, on that cold day in November in a tiny country church where my family gathered to remember her, “She made the best chocolate chip cookies,” was all we had.
More than a decade later, I’m starting life over again, again. This memory came to me as I was feeling lost and unsure of what the next stage of my life should look like. I want to make my next steps with clear, focused intention, because in those steps, I know I am building my own legacy.
The workaholic, burnt out, tired, crabby, disconnected person I see in the mirror is not the woman I want to be. And so, I must choose carefully a better path. A path to happiness, health, and prosperity in every area of my life- and leave this worn out version of myself behind.
I want to be remembered as a cheerful wife, who loved my husband selflessly with my whole heart and soul. I want to be the mother (and step-mother) who had my babies’ backs through every stage of their lives- a teacher, a friend, and an example of what it is to be a strong, educated, independent, successful woman in the world.
I want to embody compassion, empathy, and love.
I want to share my experiences with the world in a way that brings comfort and validation to others who share my struggles.
I want joy, peace, creativity, and freedom to be part of everyday I spend on this earth. And when I die, I want people to say that I lived and loved every single day I was here.