Tiny stacks of 35-millimeter slides covered the dining room table. One by one I passed them through the slide viewer. The story of my parents’ earliest years together unfolded from Okinawa to North Carolina to Colorado and Texas. Pictures are only part of the story.
Several years ago, dad sent me a handwritten letter, more like a long list of notes that wind through place and time. That’s another part of our story.
Soon, I’ll be able to view the slides I selected on a DVD. For me, these memories combined with the notes are a part of the family story that has become our legacy.
Several months before my mother passed away, my dad gave my brother a cigar box of letters written by my mother while he was on a temporary duty assignment. The letters, written almost daily, provide a diary of activities, from the childhood antics of my toddler brother and an oh so four-year-old grownup self to cousins and grandparents. Hanging clothes to dry and trips to the grocery store were intermingled with support and encouragement for my dad during training. Ever present was her love.
After my brother handed off the cigar box to me, my dad let me know that he passed it on to us so we would understand how much our mother loved us. Indeed, her love is obvious in those letters, and so much more. She described our budding personalities, and sometimes what she predicted for our futures. Slides, notes, and letters make up the family legacy.
Have you shared your family story with children and grandchildren? Your story is your legacy.
Create a Legacy Statement
Your legacy statement will leave a record of what you hope to pass on to the next generation.
Legacy statements are non-binding and simpler than ever to put on paper. Few of us handwrite anything these days, so lack of pen and paper or cramps from writing are no excuse. You can find examples and tips online for writing your story, your legacy statement.
Simply put, a legacy statement is a record of what you want to leave behind, your hopes and dreams for the next generation. It is not a record of all you have accomplished, apologies or a list of failures. It is an account of the things that mattered most in your life, the lessons you learned and the values you cherish most.
The Legacy of Permission and Responsibilities
Sometimes, a legacy statement provides permission to the next generation to take different paths, explore new ideas and yet often it is a reflection on the responsibilities left by the previous generation and your best guidance for the future.
Not Your Standard Legacy
A standard definition of legacy, a gift by will of money or personal property, can prevent us from recognizing the value of our family story. There is another definition: something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor. Legacies include gifts of money and property and, just as important, the story of our lives, the values we tried to live by, the lessons we learned, what we started and hope others will continue.
Here are a few ideas on what to include in your legacy statement.
- Identify the principles and values most important to you.
- Describe the most important role you played in life – your family role, work role, and roles in the community are all a part of your story, your legacy.
- Describe your faith and how it impacted your life and decisions.
- Describe a meaningful story from your parents and grandparents and how it influenced your life decisions.
- Describe what made you laugh, made you sad, or made you stop to reflect?
- Explain significant giving decisions and the spirit of philanthropy you hope the next generation will continue.
- Let the next generation know what you most want others to remember about you.
There is no perfect template for a Legacy Statement. But do sign and date it. Share it now with the next generation and leave a copy with important papers such as your will and estate documents.
For most of us, our life story is our legacy. Share your story. It might be the most important gift you leave to the next generation.
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