A legacy is a gift or a bequest. And although most people may think in terms of monetary bequests in a will or trust, a nonmonetary legacy may exist while a person is still alive and continue after their death.
After all, most people want to leave a legacy. That’s why we have grave markers and memorial services, right?
Even if your parent is no longer thinking of their legacy, you can help them develop a legacy that will not only ensure they’re remembered after they’re gone, it may well give their lives new meaning.
5 Ways to Create a Legacy
What type of legacy would your parent like to create? Here are some ideas:
For most people, their only legacy is their children and children’s children. Make sure your children and their children know your parent. If you live far away, tell stories about your parent from the time they’re toddlers.
Studies show that close grandparent-grandchild bonds benefit both groups by reducing depression, fewer emotional and behavioral problems among grandchildren, and better cognitive function among grandparents.
“Parents should be aware…of grandparents’ potential to be an important resource in their children’s lives, especially if the family is undergoing a change, such as divorce or remarriage, or if the child is undergoing a painful or challenging experience,” wrote Shalhevet Attar-Schwartz of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the author of an Israeli study about the benefits.
If your father is a devoted family man who told you stories of his father and grandfather, why not record his memories? You can easily make an audiotape or videotape even if you only talk by phone or Skype. Then, for the finishing touch, you can have a professional splice it together.
Or you can interview him, make an audiotape and transcribe it, as well as gather his old photos, and self-publish a book you can give to your children and grandchildren.
Go through old photo albums and have him give you names and dates.
Have your children and, if you have them, grandchildren, help so they can learn the family heritage and more about their grandfather or great-grandfather.
The skills of the older generation are fast-disappearing. Do you remember your mother making a certain dish that everyone loved and no one could replicate? Ask her for the recipe and write it down.
Did your father used to whittle or sharpen implements? Spend a day learning the skill. Even if he’s no longer able to actively participate, he can give you advice.
#4 Legacy that One Lives
Dr. William S. Breitbart, professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, writes that a legacy must be witnessed. However, it need not be witnessed by anyone except the person with the legacy. What this psychobabble means is that your parent’s recognition of their value to the world and their family is a legacy in itself.
As a supportive child, you build and maintain that legacy by the way you perceive and communicate with your parent. Your respect for your parent’s accomplishments will help them live out their legacy.
#5 Service to Others
As we go through this world, we touch the lives of others. Has your parent done so by serving in the military or teaching or healing? If not, there is still time for your parent to be of service to others.
They can volunteer to be a mentor to a child with exceptional needs via the Foster Grandparents program or they can work with local schoolchildren. Studies show that seniors who work with children reap additional benefits, such as increased calorie use, fewer falls, and better memory.
They can help others in their place of worship and community in various ways. They can recycle and aid the planet. They can vote and, by doing so, change the nation and, perhaps, the world.