Being a good ancestor

Skeleton leaves

After the deaths of both our parents we, their five children, received some money, quite a significant amount from the sale of their house and their savings. They had not received any inheritance from their parents, there was very little left from our grandparents' lives, but our parents were very clear about wanting to leave something for us, which was generous of them.

However, beyond a material inheritance, what we bequeath to our children and grandchildren are memories of our lives and our relationships to them and others. How do I want to be remembered and what will I contribute to the moral and emotional lives of my descendants? Put like that it seems a big responsibility.

A few years ago, in a time of transition, I had a period of therapy with a skilled practitioner. My thought, beyond relieving the immediate stress, was to clear up old hurts and resentments. I had observed how old age makes people become their unvarnished selves, whatever they have been in life they become more so. My truth-in-jest quip was that if aging was going to reveal me, I wanted to make sure it revealed the best of me. At this point I can't guarantee that but as a result of the therapy I have felt calmer and more content.

The losses of aging provide keys to a deeper way of life usually sought by monks and nuns who consciously give up material things while relatively young. Old age gives us a spiritual life whether we intend it or not. As we become less busy there is time to enjoy the little things and to marvel at nature – sunrise and sunset, the sea, the trees, the light, the sky are always with us and always changing. As a friend in late stages of dementia once said to me, standing in the rest home garden with wonder in her eyes, 'Who would have thought there were such riches?'

Time polishes our egos, shows us what is really important, makes us transparent and simple. The Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi values worn, fading or rusted objects, how time reveals the structure in nature, such as in skeleton leaves, and shows us beauty in decay if we pay close attention. My brother-in-law was a keen amateur photographer and as he aged he took photos of dead leaves on the path or in the gutter, which were poignant and appropriate.

As I become worn, transparent, what do I hope to have shine through? What would I like my grandchildren to think of as my essence? I recall my grandson, then about two years old, running across the room to throw his arms around my legs and say, 'You love me, Jan!' I told him, 'I do! I'm so glad you know that!' I hope all my family and friends will know that.

I hope too they will see courage, and the ability to be happy in my own company, and a willingness to see a job through. Some of my mother's diligence and my father's loyalty will be there too. I hope they will see someone always keen to learn but also always testing new information against experience to seek the truth while accepting that we may never really know what is true.

By being my best self, I hope to become a good ancestor.