How You Live This Life Is How You Leave It

I just withdrew from a very contentious family incident surrounding my grandmother’s estate. She passed away in late January.

Thanks to ugly family politics during the past year, I and the rest of her direct descendants will receive nothing from her estate. Not even a photograph. That’s too bad. I visited her in France every other year throughout my childhood, she helped me propose to my wife, attended my wedding. And I served as her guardian from 2009 through most of last year, and saw her almost weekly for the last seven years.

I could have fought this, but why fight for a year or two in court over money and things? You see, to fight this would have continued a terrible legacy.

While my grandmother did some great things, she was not a great person. Punitive acts, harsh words or divisiveness marred almost every conversation. Plus the estate was squandered, the result of a decade of uninhibited spending and alcoholic behavior. The expenditure alone would have eaten a significant portion of the estate. It all added up to a distraction, a big negative sink hole.

The results from grandma’s life could be seen at the funeral. Outside of the family members who forcefully took over her care and estate last autumn, there were only four people in attendance.

The acrimony after grandma’s death matches her life. Some behaviors have been passed on, but the seeds of the past don’t have to take root in the future, at least not my future.

I remember discussing this matter with my last close relative of that generation, my step grandmother Miriam. She’s 95, and just lost her beloved Mort last year. She said, “How you live this life is how you leave it.” Miriam was right.

I could not help but consider the contrast between Mort’s passing, my paternal grandmother Jean, and my maternal grandmother Muriel. In the case of Mort and Jean, there was profound sadness. Both served their communities, easily made friends, and did their best to take care of others. Mort was such a well known volunteer and community organizer, his passing was felt throughout Philadelphia.

And then there is Muriel’s death.

I did love my grandmother very much. The painful discord during and after her life makes it much harder to reconcile her death, though.

I can only say that while she loved me, too (I think), in most situations she was a great teacher of what not to do. That includes giving instead of taking, and understanding when to fight as well as what to fight about. It always leaves scars for both parties, and can become a huge distration from what really matters in life.


My grandmother Jean used to always say when something was troubling me that this too shall pass. Instead of remembering the bad, I hope I can cherish the good things like the many trips to the Vallongue in Provence (pictured above), as well as Paris, Rome, and Geneva (featured image). She did many things for me, and I know that. Only time will tell how I feel about her overall legacy.

But no matter what, she has proven that how you live this life is how you leave it. I’ll keep that in mind.


  • Wow, Geoff. Just wow. Tis the truth. And so is this: Kindness, service, love, empathy, all are not just the qualities of “nice people.” They are the essence of life, the font from which it springs, the core of personal, occupational, and political life. You do a great job of speaking about this in this blog, and I never regret the time I spend reading what you have to say.

    • Living a good life is not easy. It’s not nice, either. It’s easier to act poorly, in my opinion, but the consequences are not worth it, and leave me unfulfilled. In the end, whether we are accomplished or not, it means little if we have left a path of wreckage behind us. You need look no further than the disgrace of Roichard Nixon’s life to see that all the chevrons mattered little in the end.

      Thank you so much for your kind words.

  • Relish the good memories: relinquish the bad. Know in your heart that we cannot change others. The path we choose is one in which we can strive to leave this world a little better for our having been here. The choice is ours. I believe you’ve made a wise choice here.

  • I had an uncle who I am sure loved all of us but he simply couldn’t keep his mouth shut about anything, especially if you upset him. Something happened between him and my father when my dad was in high school and for decades my uncle would not let it go and that wreaked havoc on their relationship.

    My father would invite him to everything because he wouldn’t do anything to hurt his father and then I would watch my uncle stir things up.

    His behavior overshadows everything else he did and that is just too bad. It could have been different

    Very sorry for your loss.

  • Geoff,

    Been a long time since we’ve crossed paths in person . . . I came across your blog via Linked-In. The headline drew me in, but knowing you made me want to read through.

    I’d agree w/the other posters below, and you too – it’s more important to be good than it’s good to be important. You can riff on that in many ways, but the take away is the same – do unto others . . .

    I’m sorry for your loss. More than that though I’m sorry for the pain that accompanies the realizations that accompanied your Grandmother’s passing. As you say ‘not in my future’. Hold true to that thought.



    • Oh my! Rob, how the hell are you? Hope all is well. Been shooting a lot of photos, would love to catch up some time.

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