In end-of-life work, I have found that one of the questions that folks who are dying may ask themselves is “What is my legacy?” More often than not, this question is not asked overtly. It is asked and answered through storytelling and life review. It is examined through connections made with friends and relatives, and children, grandchildren, and sometimes great-grandchildren. It is examined through our relationship with the world around us.

  •  Do you advocate for the downtrodden? That is part of your legacy.
  •  Are you kind to animals? That is part of your legacy.
  • Are you a hard worker? That is part of your legacy.
  •  Are you an artist – even if only in your own mind? I am. Or I think I am. Picasso, I am not. If you are an artist too, that is part of your legacy.
  • Are you a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker? That is part of your legacy.

Unfortunately, for all of us, our legacies include those parts of ourselves we would rather not think about or acknowledge.

  • Do you lose your temper easily? That is part of your legacy.
  • Are you an escape artist when it comes to uncomfortable situations in life? That is part of your legacy.
  •  When faced with danger or conflict, do you bury your head in the sand, and peak out every now and again until the danger or conflict wanders away? That is part of your legacy.
  • Are you judgmental to people who are not like you? That is part of your legacy.

It behooves us all to ask ourselves “What is my legacy?” Ask yourself early. Ask yourself often. I try to ask myself when I am mindlessly scrolling on Facebook, then I remember that is not what I want my legacy to be, and then I get off Facebook – sometimes. Sometimes I keep scrolling.

Examine your life as if you are dying, and if you do not like what you see, make an adjustment here and there, or make a complete overhaul. Nobody benefits more than we do when we examine our life’s paths, including all of our strengths and weaknesses – even the ugly parts.

  • What is my legacy?
  •  What am I leaving behind when I die?
  • Am I leaving the world a better place?
  • Have I lived my life in a meaningful way?
  • Has Mother Earth and all her living beings benefited from my mere existence?
  •  Do I need to do any cleanup work with my relationships before I die? 
  •  Do the people I love know that I love them? Should I tell them?
  • Do I really hate the people I think I hate? Is there something I could try to fix, or is it best if it stays broken?
  • What is a question that is important to me? What is the answer?

Ask yourself early. Ask yourself often. 

What is my legacy? What are the choices that I am making and the life that I am living doing to benefit my loved ones and fellow human beings? How do I wish to be remembered? In the end, we are all going to die. We do not have a choice. We get to choose how to live. What a beautiful thing.

Obviously, I am still alive. Knock on wood. My dad died suddenly about a year and a half ago, Part of my grieving process has been to helpfully examine his legacy on his behalf. (You’re welcome, Dad.) My dad struggled with a lifetime of mental health issues, anger management issues, and diabetes management issues. He was a recovering alcoholic. He was adventuresome. He loved his wife, children, and grandchildren. He had the best sense of humor of anybody I ever knew. He liked to fish. My siblings and I made a collection of what we lovingly call “Dave-isms” (his name was Dave) after he died. One of my favorites is “If you can’t be a good example, then be a horrible warning.” All of these things are components of who he was – his legacy.

Here is a picture of my dad being adventuresome with two of his children and a grandchild. My brother had asked him to go to a painting class. The man had no artistic tendencies, but he did not blink an eye, and he said yes. The day ended badly due to his aforementioned issues, but by God, he gave painting a try. That was his legacy. It is who he was. I’m on the far right in the picture below. Now you know why I think I’m an artist.

“I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Ah, who the ___ are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Oh, tell me who are you? (Who are you? Ooh)
I really wanna know
Oh, I really wanna know
Come on, tell me who are you, you, you, ah you?”

~ The Who – Who Are You?~

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