I finished this Christmas stocking in December and it got me thinking about my legacy. It’s the seventh one I’ve made so far–years ago for my two sons, then their wives, and most recently for my three grandchildren. I was unaware these stockings (a Bucilla kit) would become a cherished tradition. I made the first one for my firstborn Brian over 30 years ago, then another for Derek and so on.
Unintentionally, I have been creating my personal legacy without giving it much thought. I knew I wanted to continue a Christmas tradition started many years ago in my own family when my godmother made stockings for all three of us children. I still have that stocking, as do my brother and sister.
The stockings are busy, fun, cheerful and took many evening hours of sewing on little beads and sequins, as well as embroidering and hand-stitching–talents I don’t have naturally. I hope every year when they hang them on their mantles, they’ll remember me with happy thoughts long after I’m gone.
That bling-filled busy pattern was created with love by me and each stocking made me feel happy. I want my family to experience a little more delight and magic of Christmas morning when they open the small gifts, candies and surprises held in those stockings.
It is a perfect part of what I want for my legacy.
What is a legacy and why should we care about it?
Traditional definitions of a legacy include money, assets, and material possessions left to another. According to Cambridge Dictionary, “it is something that is a result of events in the past”. This “something” can be a myriad of possibilities far beyond material possessions. Values, memories, special mementos, family heirlooms and traditions are all part of legacies. A legacy is also something someone has done which remains after they stop working or die. These may include personal and professional accomplishments, reputations and choices made in one’s life which may have long-term impact on others.
In a recent survey of women in midlife, we identified 5 Major Concerns, one being the loss of meaning and purpose in later life. This is most prevalent in times of major transitions: divorce, children leaving home and retirement. It is important we take time to redefine what’s important to us and re-create meaning in our lives today. This stocking was the catalyst for me to ask myself these questions.
1. Who do I want to be remembered by long after I’m gone?
For me, it’s my children, grandchildren and friends. It is also a few charitable organizations and causes which touch my heart—vulnerable children, girls education, and Alzheimer’s research. Although the organization may not know me by name, my donations will carry on important work in these areas. The decisions we make today and the actions we take can have significant impact on people we may or may not even know.
2. How do I want to be remembered?
I’d love to be remembered as someone who cherished family, and thoroughly enjoyed all the festivities, lights and decorations of Christmas. I hope they remember my love of the outdoors and adventures we had when we camped in many of our National Parks. I’ve already seen how my sons and their families love nature and recognize the importance of protecting the environment. (I need to give this more thought…a big question, isn’t it?)
How you answer this question offers you a lens through which you can look at what you do, what it says about you and how you want to be remembered.
As my mom used to say, “it’s not what you say, it’s what you do that really counts. ”
3. What’s important to me that I’d like to see carried on?
One example for me is to continue to support girls’ educational opportunities. Studies around the world strongly show educated girls and women improve the economic well being of a community, reduce poverty, marry later, and have fewer children and greater family stability. Our world need keepers of the environment, our arts and our educational programs. How can I help future generations? I want this to be part of my legacy.
4. What values do I want to be remembered for?
The first values that come to mind are love, family, friendships, honesty, kindness and having fun! Am I living my life today to reflect those values?
5. How can I thoughtfully create my legacy?
Here are a few interesting ways to create or enhance a legacy.
Plan and share experiences with the people you care about.
Establish or continue traditions meaningful to you.
Create things…art, photography, or even Christmas stockings.
Pass along family heirlooms to those who would most appreciate them. Be sure to include the family story. (If your parents are still living, this may be a wonderful activity for you to share together as they share their stories about their lives.)
Recipe collections of favorite, traditional foods you and your family have enjoyed over the years.
Photo albums and photo memory books.
Research and build your family tree. A close friend recently found out she was eligible to join the Daughters of the American Revolution when she learned of her dad’s heritage. A whole new world opened up to her. Family trees connect us to our own past as well as creating a legacy for our children and other family members.
Writing a memoir or a collection of family stories.
Donations and legacy gifts to organizations important to you made now and perhaps include in your will.
What can you do now to create your legacy?
Legacies, intentionally or unintentionally created, can be positive or negative, all based on our actions. Our life and our choices will ripple through the future in ways un-imagined. By taking some time to answer these questions will help you with your legacy.
My Christmas stockings were a good start in creating my legacy. I feel good when I imagine those sparkly colorful stocking hanging on mantles in my grandchildren’s homes decades from now. I can almost hear their children ask them, “Mommy, where did you get that stocking?” And my story lives on in their lives.
I’d love to hear about your thoughts on legacy.