“She meant well.”

Today is my birthday. I am sixty-one. Over half-way home and if my genealogy is any indication, I may live another 30 – 40 years. My mom always says, we are made of stout stuff, and are pioneer tough.

I love genealogy and learning about my ancestors. I am Daughter of the Utah Pioneers with ancestors on all 4 lines who crossed the plains in the mid 1800’s and settled in Salt Lake City. I enjoy discovering where and when they were born, where they lived, and when and how they died. Interesting, but I relish the stories that have been captured in letters, interviews & journal entries which provide personal insights into their lives. I am inspired by their strengths, grateful for their sacrifices and for the blessings of my life. I often feel “watched over” by them as I go about my days.  

Just this week I came across a letter from my 5th great grandmother to her daughter in Pontiac, Michigan. It was sent July 31st, 1847 from Winter Quarters, Nebraska as she, at the age 77, of was preparing for the trek west. Her letter included a list of the things she needed as the journey was long and she wanted to be as comfortable as possible. Here is her list:

“A bee and quilt skirt, nightcaps, and stuff for day caps (both black and white). A good tea pot, pocket hanker chiefs and plenty of snuff, tea, loaf sugar, rice, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, oil of cloves, hemlock, peppermint and tanzy, a rocking chair, some cotton stocking yarn, and a set of hair for Almira. I want all my children to send me a little keepsake that I may have it to look back upon and think of them when I am far from them.”

I just have to shake my head and smile. My life is so very different. The stresses and challenges faced by our ancestors are ones we cannot imagine. Yet, in our day, though we do not face the same physical hardships, we surely have our own burdens to bear.

I have been thinking a lot lately about life and death. About my time on earth, my decisions, outcomes, regrets, accomplishments, joys, and sorrows. I wonder, what will my loved ones remember about me when my life in summed up in a dash on a headstone between my birth and death dates? I often joke with my kids that I just want my epitaph to say, “She meant well.” Because I do, and in spite of my mistakes, I do try to love and serve,  be an example of goodness, and a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

Recently, our family has been forever changed by two unexpected, and devastating deaths. First, my sister Melody, who at the age of 47 died suddenly of pneumonia. The second, our son in law’s mom, our grandkids’ Nana, at the age of 63 from a stroke. Both were unexpected, shocking, and devastating. We are all still trying to adjust.

As I think of Melody, I remember her laughter and how she brought such overwhelming joy to me with her hysterical sense of humor. She loved life and taught her son Jesse, (12 years) to do the same.

When I think of Kris, I remember her for her genuine and unconditional love for her family. She was a giver in life and even in death as an organ donor. Our kids just received a letter from one of her kidney recipients. What a wonderful gift! Her selflessness has inspired me to also become an organ donor.

As I ponder the years that I have left on this earth, I have a renewed commitment to live a life worthy to be followed by those who will come after me. When my posterity and those I love, look at the dash on my headstone, may they remember me not just for meaning well, but for doing well.

In this challenging time in which we live, my hope for you is that you may find time to evaluate your life, have the courage and strength to make course corrections, changes and modifications needed to live your best life. May I encourage you to focus on what truly matters. To forgive, love, serve those in need, do more of what you enjoy, and make the most of your ‘dash.’

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