Do you think it’s important to leave something behind when your life is over? Something for your family or something for the community? We all want to feel that we made a difference, that the world and/or our family is better because of us.
When asking this question to many friends, I’ve heard all sorts of answers. There are those who just want a better understanding of their own lives, some sense of who they were and how they fit into the world, without feeling the need to leave anything.
Some are doing the life review. This is an examination of the past, broken into several-year segments, particular themes, meaningful life events or significant people who have affected our lives. Recalling our years gone by can bring awareness of both joys and wounds that can be inspiring and bring a broader perspective to our lives now.
Another friend is doing a “summation.” This includes going through photographs and trips, which she anchors in a timeline, to sort of piece together the different fragments of her life. This reflection is showing her the thread of her life, the story, so to speak. She is not doing this to leave anything for her family, but simply to understand her own lineage better; how she’s lived it and what she’s done with it.
Others have the drive to actually leave something, whether it’s an oral history or video biography, scrapbooks or letters, these all having recorded their lives in detail and full color for posterity. Is this saying, “I’m important and I must leave something important”? Or is it truly a gift for those who follow? I don’t know.
Another idea is to write a legacy letter. This is a loving document that translates your personal and family stories and values into life lessons that can inform and transform the younger generation. Also, the local senior center offers a memoirs writing group.
My project for this winter is to go up in my attic, find all my journals from adulthood and go through them. I’m not sure if I want to leave them for kids or destroy them: I’ll know better when I review them. Journaling has brought me clarity as I look at deeper thoughts, insights and experiences.
But do we really want our descendants to know every gory detail, and all the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll we may have experienced as younger folks? And, who’s to say they’d even be interested in reading all this stuff? Don’t our kids know who we really are now? Maybe our lives are our legacies, and what we leave behind are the memories and modeling we did for others.
I wonder if this review of our lives, whether it be a physical thing or simply a personal assessment, is a natural tendency as we move closer to the end. Everyone is probably different as to their reactions to these ideas. Perhaps by examining our lives, we will know if we feel it’s important to leave something. At least the process may give us the chance to know ourselves a bit better and feel some kind of fulfillment at the end.
Martha McClellan has been a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus now to the other end of life, and has written the book, The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.