As we mature, it’s natural to consider our own mortality and whether our legacy is embodied in the hearts and minds of loved ones. Most of us will be satisfied just to pass on our most cherished memories, but taking the time to preserve your living legacy can improve your life and that of your family’s for years to come.
Working on your family’s living legacy will not only provide your loved ones with a precious, tangible attachment to you after you are gone, but will also improve your level of happiness, life satisfaction and psychological well being.
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Read our top six tips for preserving your living legacy:
Food is much more than our body’s fuel; it is an integral part of culture that unites families and transcends generations. Many families strengthen their bond and maintain their identity by passing on recipes from generation to generation. For example, my own family collected all of my grandmother’s recipes, transcribed them and had several books printed for her children and grandchildren to keep and remember her by. A recipe book can be one of the most profound ways to leave an emotional legacy because scent is the sense most closely linked to emotion and memory. The simple smell of cookies baked using Grandmother’s special recipe can bring her to life in our mind’s eye.
Audio or video recordings can be a powerful tool to help families remember their loved ones. You can get started with just a tape recorder or video camera. In Joan Lunden’s book for caregivers, she recommends using recordings, suggesting that families prepare a long list of interview questions. “This kind of video recording of your family history is priceless,” she says. For inspiration, you might explore the audio recordings of the StoryCorps Memory Initiative or the video interviews of Cornell University’s Legacy Project. For those who need help putting together these recordings, a number of services can help including businesses like Family Legacy Video that can produce a video for you. Seniors who are wary of being videotaped may prefer the audio format.
The process of making a family tree gives you and your family an opportunity to reminisce about loved ones and tell stories together. Include photos where possible to help bring the tree to life. When it’s completed, you can share copies of this unique keepsake with all your family members. Dr. Jeannette Franks even suggests that families include their loved ones’ medical histories to help their younger relatives know what health issues they should be on guard against. While it may strike some as morbid, she advises families to note the relative’s cause of death on the family tree.
Rather than handing off all of your heirlooms and possessions immediately, you can make a time capsule for your descendants to open in the distant future. You could even create multiple time capsules that include mementos for relatives not even born yet to discover. For example, you might make a time capsule to be opened by your living relatives in the year 2030, and include interesting keepsakes that give our descendants a glimpse of our present. Your will can also include instructions for handling the time capsule (for example, who will be responsible for it and where it will be kept).
In the digital age, audio and video are king, but they can never replace the power of the printed word. Seniors with the patience and talent to write their memoirs have a unique opportunity to tell their story exactly as they believe it should be told, and to speak directly to younger family members who they might never meet in person. The National Day of Listening also includes a list of “great questions” — that could serve as excellent writing prompts.
Philanthropy is a traditional means of legacy building. In choosing which causes and organizations to give to, seniors get to demonstrate their most revered values and show the importance of giving through their own actions. Of course, their donation will also make a real difference in a cause they care about. Potential donors can identify legitimate nonprofits at websites like Charity Navigator, which maintains a list of 4-Star Charities.
How have loved ones in your family worked to create their living legacy? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.