Your legacy should be a life-long project. It's never too soon to start working on it. We may have many years ahead – but then do we? Youngsters in their 20s and 30s are just as prone to dying as elderly citizens of retirement age.
When I talk about legacy, I'm not interested in the bank accounts and house and private yacht you'll be including in your will. I'll leave that to the lawyers and the counselors.
- Think about the personal things that define who you are, your experiences, beliefs and contributions to your family history and society. I'm talking about the everyday things what we all take for granted….the things that cause irreconcilable conflicts among family members when we're no longer there to moderate. I'm talking about such things as Mom's prized nicknacks and favorite African Violet, Dad's fishing pole and bowling ball, the paintings on the living room wall. If these are uniquely identified with you, you can be sure that someone will want it for sentimental reasons….and you can be sure that these are the things your heirs will fight over when you're gone. Consider making a list of such items. (If there's a story connected with this item, consider writing it down and save the story to be passed along with it.) On the list designate the individual you want to have each item. Better yet, if it's something you are keeping but no longer use, consider passing them on now.
If the prized possession is a book….Mom's favorite cookbook, Dad's collection of Mysteries, consider inscribing a personal note on the inside cover – a brief note about what they enjoyed most about the item or where they go it, can add much in the way of value.
- Then there are the hundreds of dozens of photos you're keeping. Are they all tossed in a trunk or a drawer haphazardly? Are all the people in those pictures identified? What about the date, the location and the event? Two years from now – or when we're gone, will anyone remember? Simply write the notes on the back of the picture, And then file them carefully by date. (Your filing system doesn't have to be fancy, a shoe box will do nicely, and eventually you may want to move them into archival photo albums. Putting them in the photo album before they've been sorted, may make it very difficult arrange everything in order.)
- As you go through your photos, you'll recall people and events that are very special to you. Consider writing this information down. The easiest way is to just take a pen and paper and write down everything that comes to you mind as you look at the picture. If you do it in the form of a letter. Nothing fancy here, just allow yourself to relive the moment. When done fold the paper and file it with the picture.
This can be done anytime: while you're sorting the photos, or whenever a stray thought pops into your mind. The important thing is that you want to be as detailed as you can be and you don't want to worry about whether it's perfect. These are your memories.
These are very simple activities. They can be done a little at a time, or when you're bored or feeling a little bit depressed. They're magical activities. They are great for lifting your spirits. They afford a sense of accomplishments and remind you about all the wonderful experiences you've had throughout the years. But more important your documenting an era – a lifetime – that generations will appreciate long after you're gone. This is the information they won't find in history books, or learn in school.
Keep building. At some point you may want to write and publish your memoirs. When that day comes, you will have done all the heavy lifting and will be well on your way to publication.
OK, I hear you, I didn't do anything special, I don't have children, Nobody cares.
Stop right there! If you've lived during the last 100 years, you've lived through – and contributed to – the development of the advancement of a rapidly changing technology-focused era. You've witnessed – perhaps even been part of – the Hippie Generation, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the assassination of one of our greatest Presidents. You've used outhouses and and you've used toilets that flush themselves. You've seen a man walk on the Moon and have talked face-to-face family or friends hundreds of miles away without anyone leaving their own easy chairs. You know the history of the Batchers' house down on the corner.. probably even still call it that – although the Batchers moved away 45 years ago.
Don't worry about finishing. Add as you go and enjoy the journey.
This is the stuff that history is made of. You've lived it. Future generations want to know.