The many meanings of “legacy”

I had the privilege of attending the funeral of a family member on my husband’s side last week.

She was a wonderful lady by all accounts and led a life that touched many people. The overwhelming feeling during the service was one of love for her and palpable pride. There was sadness, of course, but as her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered to pay tribute to this matriarch, it was clear they were proud to be her legacy.

It was this, as well as binge-watching movies based on the books of Jannette Oke, and, oddly enough, cleaning and rearranging the contents of my china cabinet, that had me in a reflective mood and thinking about the meaning of legacy.

Oke writes about female heroines in the pioneer times and tragedy abounds, as the stories are largely about overcoming adversity as well as family ties.

By the way, I don’t actually recommend watching them all at once. It’s not so wise unless you enjoy having your heart wrenched out repeatedly, but the person I’d borrowed them from needed them back so I proceeded to torture myself anyways.

One thought I had from the movies, is that legacy doesn’t always come from the family you’re born into. There were a lot of blended families back then too, as spouses lost spouses and remarried, or children lost parents and were taken in. A prevailing theme of the stories is that love binds and endures.

Between movies I decided to do something productive, and my cluttered china cabinet caught my eye.

As I took items out to clean and replace them, I took them in with a bit of a new perspective, as I considered the pieces that were inherited from relatives, and some that were wedding gifts, or invoked other fond memories of a person or an event.

Those inherited items took on a deeper meaning as I reflected on them. They are more than just things, they are heirlooms. They are items that were passed down, from people no longer here, but still deeply loved, which gives them infinite value.

Heirlooms can certainly be very tangible reminders of legacy.

As I replaced things, and noted items from two different matriarchs of our family, I too, felt proud. Proud of my family and those who came before, who raised close-knit families with good values and proud that my family and I are now part of that chain.

Children, of course, are one of the most obvious forms of legacy, though certainly not the only one.

Some strive to leave an empire behind, or other grand things to be remembered by.

Perhaps the kinds of legacies with the most meaning, however, are the ones that leave a lasting impact on those around them, be it in their families, communities or with whom they associated.

Those that give of their time or talents as volunteers or in other positions of service certainly have an impact — a worthy legacy.

Sometimes I wonder how I will be remembered. What events will be noteworthy, or what attributes will be mentioned? What I don’t want is to be sainted … but I also wouldn’t want it to be a free-for-all roasting. I may just write my euology myself, although that may seem too egotisitical.

In all seriousness though, carefully planning for the end of your life in advance, as to not leave a burden on your family, is a noble and admirable thing, if one is able to accomplish it, and could be considered its own kind of legacy. I was also reminded of this recently when I received confirmation of an insurance policy.

This column may seem morose, but the points I wish to emphasize are to cherish those close to you. Get to know them before they pass away if you can, so you aren’t learning the details of their life for the first time in their eulogy. That for me, is one of the saddest parts of funerals.

Also, we can all try to leave the world a little better than we found it, as we strive to live meaningful lives and have a positive impact on those around us.

What will your legacy be?

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