Voices of Experience: What Will Be YOUR Legacy?

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Another life suddenly cut short! Whether it happens on the news or in your family, we feel a sadness for the untoward violence, accident, or disease. We feel compassion and a desire to help the grieving family. We feel shock at the uncompleted plans of this unfulfilled life. And sometimes, we feel wonder and awe at the legacy of that person's life.

I first experienced this sense of awe at my Dutch stepson's memorial service. Person after person went to the microphone and spoke through tears about Eelco's influence on their lives. Yet, mentally disabled from birth with a predicted five-year lifespan, he had lived most of his life in an institution. He could not speak nor care for himself. Still, even in death, Eelco opened eyes, touched hearts, and brought revelation.

August is What Will Be Your Legacy? Month. Consider your real assets: what will last beyond your lifetime? Teachers are thrilled when they run into a former student who says, "You were my favorite ..." because there was role-modeling underway, along with learning. Your life has left a similar subtext. It is a natural process to review one's life as it nears end. This provides a sense of meaning and purpose, leading to peace.

A person's legacy can be memorialized in many ways: by framed funeral wreaths, photographs, tombstone quotations, bridges, buildings, even music, dance, and sculpture. While in the Netherlands to attend Eelco's funeral, I was struck by a statue that memorialized the volunteers who rowed the town's lifeboat out to sea in rescue of others, risking their own lives. The legacy statue even evokes sentiments from strangers - a glow of gratitude and wonder. Another type of legacy is a gift to a charity which will do good works.

There is another long-lasting and beneficial legacy which anyone can make. Give your life story. Some people leave a recording; others leave an ethical will of the values bestowed to loved ones. Personal historians work with people who choose to leave a legacy life story. Their book always includes how they developed their values during the storms and balmy days we are granted. Time and again, I've been told by grateful family members, "This book means more to me than anything else I have." If you wonder what you have to leave your children, grandchildren, and friends when you go, consider the legacy of your life with a smile. It is much more than the material and will last much longer.

Nashvillian Deborah Wilbrink is a personal historian helping others write life story and family history. She is author of "Time to Tell: Your Personal & Family History" and secretary of the International Association of Personal Historians. Contact Deborah at 615-417-8424, deb@perfectmemoirs.com or visit her website, PerfectMemoirs.com.

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