“Not everything that counts can be counted.”[i]
Cindy was pregnant when she was diagnosed with cancer. Her child was a toddler when she died. When she realized that the hoped-for miracle was unlikely, Cindy set a goal: to make sure her children remembered her. She chose hospice care for the last months of her life and set about building and recording memories with her remaining time. Doctors’ prognosis gave her the motivation to look back and examine life’s meaning. She also looked ahead, knowing that earthly time was winding down. Cindy understood: “It’s now or never,” and set about recording videos, assembling photo albums, and writing notes for loved ones, until cancer spread to her brain. She wasn’t afraid to die, even though her heart was breaking at the impending separation. Cindy chose to live fully and intentionally for as long as she had.
If you love someone, you don’t just leave. You say something, send a text, or write a note before heading out the door. If you didn’t, your loved ones would certainly worry or wonder: “Did we matter so little that you didn’t say something?” The body doesn’t last, but connections will continue. When you’re gone, make sure you’re not forgotten. Stories not told will disappear. Most of us won’t have biographers eager to research and write about our lives. It’s up to us. The bonus of doing it yourself is that you’ll get to craft the narrative the way you want.
Having a conversation about death – personal, not abstraction – will take courage. You have to decide whether Love is greater than Fear. Are you willing to pay love forward by sharing your story?
Talking about death and dying makes for a daunting conversation. One way to mitigate the anxiety is to talk before dark clouds gather on the horizon. Perhaps, ask someone else to help facilitate the discussion to ease the emotional impact. In messages for family and friends, say any things that need to be said, but always include the magic words: “Thank you. I love you. Forgive me. I forgive you. Goodbye.” Start now in order to make them a habit. Make a practice of saying them in person, so when it is the last time, you don’t go without saying goodbye. Last words are lasting words.
“We had the experience but missed the meaning.”[ii]TS Eliot, Four Quartets
Make peace with your past by reviewing your life. Look back and consider the highlights: memories of childhood; stepping stones and turning points; happiest and hardest moments; adventures; principles you lived by, values and beliefs; life lessons and mistakes; roads taken and not taken; hopes, dreams and aspirations for future generations. Every life is unique and worthy of preservation for generations yet to be. Financial assets will be spent and forgotten, but your legacy can provide a priceless inheritance.
Don’t let the stories die with you. One aspect of legacy involves telling your story. Remembering and writing about your life helps to distill meaning. If we ignore or deny the reality of death, we won’t have the opportunity to pass on our our stories. It doesn’t have to be a book-length memoir, because as journalist Tim Russert observed, “Someday your entire life will be summed up in twenty minutes.”[iii] And don’t expect that your social media posts will have staying power. Mostly, they’re here today and gone tomorrow, unless you happen to run for or hold public office. Special programs like StoryCorps or the Veterans History Project help facilitate the collection of personal stories. The Library of Congress-sponsored Veterans History Project offers a Field Kit with instructions and interview questions. Another option is StoryWorth. Write your life story a week at a time using question prompts.
Your life mattered. What was important to you? Looking back, think about how you want to be remembered. Looking forward, consider the life experiences and beliefs you want to pass on. In the crafting of your legacy include:
- Love shared — Who did you love?
- Lessons learned – What messages will you leave behind?
- Light spread – What light did you bring to the world?
© Joan S Grey, 25 June 2021 ∞
IndexCardCure™: Don’t let the stories die with you
“Tell your story” is a section from soon-to-be-published Good Goodbyes: A Mortal’s Guide to Life.
[i] Attributed to Albert Einstein
[ii] TS Eliot, Four Quartets