5 Tips to Help a Loved One Communicate Their Legacy

A legacy, although it has a technical definition, can mean a wide variety of things. For instance, you may think of a legacy as something synonymous with your loved one like their occupation or their beloved city or hometown team. A legacy may be a particular story or a distinguishable personality trait. It may be something as simple as a last name.

Although there are ample definitions of a legacy, one thing remains constant: while people can’t live forever—legacy has the power to burn eternally. For many, this understanding can create a profound sense of peace. To that end, here are five tips to help you better understand and preserve your loved ones’ legacies.

It’s Never Too Early to Consider Legacy

Two Novembers ago when my Dad’s brain cancer treatments were beginning to fail and the harrowing disease was beginning to get the best of him and his spirit started to dim, as a family, we chose to enter hospice. By this point, I knew that I had a serious job to do since there was nothing that I could do to save Dad’s quality of life. The tumors weren’t shrinking, but our time together was.

I couldn’t go back to age 27 when life was normal or to the time period when the happy legacy of our family was still being built. I only could continue to be my 28-year-old self and begin to gather 61 years of stories to properly piece together my Dad’s legacy. All that I could do was ask him how he wanted to be remembered and proceed to do my very best to carry out those wishes. My advice to you is simply that you do not wait to consider your loved one’s legacy (or your own!) Encourage reflection and discuss how they long to be remembered.

A Legacy Can be Made Up of Smaller Details

One important thing to remember is that a legacy does not necessarily have to be something large-scale, it can instead be simple or anecdotal.

I’m proud to share that the legacy of my late father was not only his decades-long marketing job for the New York Lottery but also pumpkin carving with homemade Witches Brew every Halloween and never wavering in his love for the Buffalo Bills or for his family. My Dad’s legacy was a big gathering of friends and family for spaghetti on Mondays and his unparalleled passion for The Beatles. My Dad’s legacy was unequivocally being nice to everyone and never sweating the small stuff. These smaller details are the things that stick with me and the stories that I’ll continue to spread for years to come.

Try Reminiscence Therapy

One way to explore a loved one’s legacy is to use Reminiscence therapy. Reminiscence therapy is a treatment that leverages all the senses; sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound to help individuals with dementia remember events, people, and places from their past lives. As part of the therapy, care partners may use objects in various activities to help individuals with recall of memories.

Reminiscence therapy can be a helpful tactic no matter who you are or what stage of life you’re in. This therapy can greatly bolster your loved one’s legacy as their newly-flooded memories will provide you with ample content to continue to tell their stories for years to come. StoryCombs, with its ability to save narrated photos is a perfect safe space in which to durably capture these memories forever.

Collect Stories From Multiple Sources

Another byproduct in helping to build a legacy was evidenced when I promised my dad in hospice that although his light was dimming that I would keep him burning brightly in the form of stories. I didn’t realize that along with my own memories, that I would in turn be learning so much more about him from family, coworkers, and friends. They shared with me their versions of his legacy from each decade of his life. These stories and anecdotes and memories helped greatly to bolster the legacy of my Dad. I learned that as a boy, he often visited and helped his grandmother immensely. I learned that the wedding of my Mom and Dad was legendary. I learned that at work Dad always ensured a newer coworker was invited to lunch.

As you consider your loved one’s legacy, don’t forget to ask additional sources for information. Contact old coworkers, classmates, and friends to add supplementary stories to your understanding of your family member and the life they lived.

Ask the Right Questions

As you help your loved one explore their legacy, it can be helpful to ask more direct questions.

  • How do you want others to think of you at present as well as after you’re gone?

  • What have you accomplished or built?

  • Where have you traveled or what experiences have you amassed?

  • How have you treated others?

  • How did you choose to live your life?

While you may hold a specific view of your loved one, you might find how they want the world to remember them differs. You’ll never know until you ask!

Your loved one may have served our country or been a prolific business owner or an outstanding parent, wife, husband, or grandparent. They may have traveled the world. They may have simply always chosen to be kind. Whatever their legacy, taking the time to help your loved one communicate what is important to them is something that can not only help to bring them peace, but is something that can strengthen your family’s overall narrative for decades to come.