One thing about being a nonreligious parent is that I have no expectation of an afterlife. I believe that when I leave the universe, I leave it for good. And whatever "spirit" I have survives only in the memories of the people I love. Which is enough. Honestly, it is.
But it also makes me hyper-aware of what I leave behind. And that is especially true when it comes to my daughter. For the first few years of her life, I couldn't help but be concerned that I would die, and all of what we'd experienced together would be lost because she would be too young to remember of any it. She might not know how much I loved her. She might not know how special she was.
So I started making books. I guess you could call them scrapbooks, although they're as much about the stories as the pictures. In them I pour all the funny anecdotes and quotes I have amassed over the years (usually found on scraps of paper scattered throughout the house, but also culled from my Facebook page and Twitter feed). I put in conversations (like the one she had with my husband about what God looks like), essays (about what she was like at that particular age) and personal messages (that center on my feelings for her.)
At first, she ignored the books, of course. She was too young to really understand what they meant. But now that she's 7, that's no longer true. These books are some of her most prized possessions. In fact, I've started to print two copies: one for her room and one for keeping. The copies in her room are already quite tattered; that's how often she opens them. It's hilarious how little she remembers of things that happened only a few years ago. She thinks the things she said and did and thought are terribly cute and funny. Sometimes I hear her telling her friends the stories she has read in her books.
In a way, these books are my last will and testament. Much more important to me than any instructions I'm leaving behind about money. (Although she may not think so one day!) Everything of any consequence that has happened to us is included in these pages. Everything wonderful and insightful and just plain funny that has come out of her mouth is listed. Everything I want her to remember — it's all there.
I make one of these books every year for Maxine's birthday, and every year when I finish it and send it off to print, there's this little voice in the back of my head that says, "Now I can die happy."