7 Loving Ways to Leave a Legacy
By Victoria Duncan
How will you be remembered? When you think of a legacy, you may envision a stately, brick building at our local hospital sporting the name of a well-heeled donor; a generous scholarship fund set up in memory of a lost loved one; or a recreational park or facility named for a popular politician. What if you don’t have those resources or have not experienced that type of renown in your life? Does that leave you out of the legacy business?
Not at all! A legacy can fall anywhere on the continuum from the simple, but meaningful personal bequest to a grand and public gesture that touches many lives. Leaving a legacy is an intentional and responsible act that is, in part, an act designed in your self-interest, but at the same time, planned for the benefit of others. From a self-interested perspective, most of us wish to be remembered and want to think that our lives had significance. A legacy is a way of saying, “I was here.” In the interest of others, a legacy allows us leave something that may make life a bit easier or better for those who come after us.
Beyond the obvious necessity of leaving a traditional last will and testament, spend some time reflecting upon those gifts, resources and interests that are uniquely yours. We all have some. Consider what you would like to pass down to future generations. Think as small or as large as your resources permit.
1.Compile your family history. With tools like ancestry.com and archives.gov it’s never been easier or more interesting to fill out those branches on your family tree. Remember that you are the link between the generations. When you are gone, there may be nobody left to remember that your great-great grandfather carved a small wooden Bible for his infant son while he waited in the Pennsylvania hills for the Civil War battle at Gettysburg to begin. Mine did! While I didn’t know this ancestor, my grandmother wisely tucked the details into a box along with this tiny, wooden Bible. Your family also has its own unique stories. Catch them before they’re gone.
2.Pass on an interest or passion. Are you a talented woodworker or knitter? Do you love art? Teach your children and grandchildren! Those times when you are quietly spending time together doing something you love are also a good opportunity to pass down an oral history. For example, when I taught my granddaughter, Daisy, the notes on the piano, I also entertained her with the details of how my beloved, Great-aunt Daisy, for whom she is named, taught me the notes when I was the same age. Someday, I hope that Daisy might continue the tradition with her grandchildren.
3.Make a charitable contribution. Choose a charity that reflects your values and make a gift that is meaningful to you. A friend and her husband stayed active well into their 80s by walking and riding bikes on a nearby rail trail. Before they died, they purchased several garden benches and paid for a wildflower garden to be created along the trail. Although they are both gone now, this tiny, restful garden remains beside a plaque with their names and a lovely quote about nature.
4.Give a collection. Again, personalize this. If it’s just a random group of coins thrown into a box, it’s not going to mean much beyond the monetary value. However, if it’s your prized baseball card collection that you’ve shared with your sports-loving grandson as you’ve regaled him with the story of when you first saw Mickey Mantle playing center field, it’s going to pack more punch!
5.Share the Food. Few things speak to us of family and memories like food. Remember the caramel apple pie that your grandmother always made for Sunday dinners in the Fall? Your crazy Aunt Jean’s potato salad? Cull through your recipes and put together an assortment of family recipes. If you can jot down a bit about where the recipe originated or how it was most often served, all the better. It’s easy to compile your collection into books for your family and these make a great holiday gift. Include photos if you can.
6.Write a Letter. You don’t have to be a gifted author to write a heartfelt letter to your loved ones. Again, it’s the individual touch that counts. Write a personal letter to each of your loved ones and include those large or small moments that frame your relationship. Perhaps you could describe the first moment you held your granddaughter and whispered in her ear, “I can’t wait to get to know you!” or the way your son’s face lit up when he saw his new bicycle on Christmas morning. Remark upon their strengths and talents or on your hopes and dreams for their future. Finally, share any life lessons or beliefs that you wish to pass on. This can also be accomplished with a video camera or aural recorder.
Live your life as you wish to be remembered. Perhaps the most important legacy we leave behind is simply the memory that people will hold of us, of how we lived our lives, and of how they felt when they were with us. My friend’s grandmother was apparently a bitter and contentious woman. Always referring to this grandparent as “the old witch,” her mother never learned to be a loving grandmother herself. In turn, this became part of her personal legacy. Is this the kind of legacy that you wish to leave behind? Would you rather be remembered as someone who extended herself for her family, who met challenges head-on, and who had kind words of encouragement for those around her? Remember that it’s never too late to improve yourself and the message you want to leave.