A wonderful way to prolong the influence of our late spouse’ life is to carry on with his or her unfinished work. Some people do this in grand scale. It’s common for a senator’s wife to be elected to fill his position, and even heads of state transfer power that way. Most of us don’t have such public positions, but can still act along that line. We simply need to understand his or her passion, and get involved on some level.
My late husband, Joe, came from a farm family in North Carolina. Over the years, the family farm changed hands, and he did not own any part of it. But his childhood memories of summers on the farm shaped his ideas of how life should be. There, he had time with his aunts and uncles, and many cousins. He worked hard, stringing tobacco. He’d also play baseball, and enjoy garden grown food.
Whenever we would go out for a hike, he’d rue that his only regret in life was that he didn’t own any land. Before he became ill, we started taking trips to look for land. After looking for 3 years, it was about two months before he died that we signed the mortgage on 257 acres of young forest in New England. The down payment came from an inheritance from his mother, who had died about ten years before. She had worked as a nurse all her life, and lived very frugally. We felt awkward spending her money on anything frivolous. She was a firm believer in paying off your mortgage as quickly as possible. So that money had sat, waiting for a worthy cause.
Joe’s intention for the land was that we’d cut for lumber in a sustainable fashion every 30 years, so that each generation of his descendants would have some help with their mortgage. He also liked the idea of having land because it offered options for lifestyle. It might be that someone will want to live on the land someday. Perhaps someone will want to farm part of it.
I love the outdoors, and was quite happy with the purchase. Since his death, I’ve joined groups that provide education about forestry and have attended seminars. The fellow forest owners at these seminars come from all walks of life. They are lifelong learners and are very good company. Then, of course, there are lots of books to read about trees. I rely heavily on a forester, Willum von Loon, for advice. All I really do is walk the land, looking for invasive plants and insects.
Our bit of forest is a good topic of conversation for my sons. It’s a project we all enjoy. I watch the trees grow, which they do pretty much by themselves. But it is a joy to feel Joe’s spirit in those woods, and I feel good that his desires are being carried out. I also really like that my mother’s-in-law influence is also being honored. As with any family project, I anticipate problems over the future generations, and I have work to do in developing a management structure that will keep the land as intended, or that it will be sold without causing conflict among our descendants.
There are lots of small, affordable things that we all can do. You can make a photo album, or transfer those old films to DVD. Sometimes, you can buy a brick at their high school or a town memorial park with their name engraved on it. You could adopt a child through the Christian Children’s Fund, and send monthly payments. Maybe you could donate books on a topic (s)he loved to the public library. Plant a tree. Give a scholarship at her high school or college. Give his tools to a young worker just starting out. Think of one specific thing that you can do that would carry on the work or the passion of your late spouse.
It’s really nice to have a concrete task that represents our respect for the memory. The finiteness of the task allows us, when it’s done, to feel a sense of completion. But even beyond a tangible act, it might be our best tribute to live in a way that would make him or her proud of us. I know that in life, he was happiest when I was happy. So I try to find joy in every day.