When I am at the bedside of someone who is nearing the end of their life, I find myself very drawn to knowing their story. I want to know who they are, what they did in their life, what they are most proud of, and what they hope to be remembered for. If given the opportunity to visit with someone when they can still speak with me, I will ask many questions hoping to get a glimpse into their life.
One day I was talking with my seven-year-old granddaughter about my mom, who had died thirty years before. She said to me, “you have a mom?” I had never mentioned my mother, who she was, what she did in her life, and what I will always remember her for. My son was five when she died, my daughter never met her, and my granddaughters did not even know I had a mom. I had never shared her story, and I am the only one in their life who can.
This reminded me that if we do not talk about the people who have died. If we don’t share their story with the children, the grandchildren, and the great-grandchildren, they will never know who came before them. My mother worked hard, she was a very talented seamstress, she baked wedding cakes for people, she danced down the isles in the grocery store, and she always made me laugh. Part of her legacy that she has left me with, are many of the quirky, playful things I didn’t like when I was younger, but have come to really like about myself, which includes embarrassing my kids when they were little by dancing down the grocery store isles. And if I pass these things on to my grandchildren, I want them to know where they really came from, which is from her and not from me.
In my work as an end-of-life doula, and if given the luxury of time, I will sit with the person who is dying and ask them what messages they want to leave with those who will be left behind. Sometimes I will help them to write letters, sometimes I will record video or voice messages, and oftentimes I will help with special photo albums… but my favorite thing to do is to create the “this is me” list.
The “this is me” list is something I started a few years ago. I first ask about their favorite music, their favorite songs, concerts they went to, and what song they would want played at their celebration of life. Music has been a part of my life since I was a very small child, and my personal playlist has become the diary of my life, and each song represents a page of my story, who I was, where I have been, and how I got here. When we start talking about their favorite music, most of the time their eyes will light up and they will share a memory that they had tucked away and forgotten until our conversation. I love those moments the most. I take notes the whole time, and my goal is to create a list of who they are, which usually ends up being things most people never knew about them.
I ask them many questions; their favorite color, favorite book(s), favorite pet, favorite Halloween costume when they were younger, favorite foods, favorite family member, favorite job(s), what they are most proud of, and this goes on. The more time I am gifted with them, the more questions I will ask. I also ask about things they might regret, things they wish they had said or done, and if given more time, I will ask, what is the one thing you would absolutely do if you still could? And then I compile all the answers and gift them to those who said goodbye.
Sometimes I like to sit down after this person has died, and I will share our conversations with their loved ones. But I don’t share everything, I always keep at least one special story, which gets to be my take-away.
“Leaving a legacy means giving something that will be valued and treasured by those who survive after your death. It requires thought to ensure that any items that have meaning to you will also have meaning to those you designate to inherit them.”
For me, legacy is something you pass on, it is your story. It is something that will hopefully be handed down to the people who love you, and who they love, and this will go on and on throughout the many lives of all who know you or will hear about you. For me it is not material items, it is not things, it is stories, nuggets, the unique and wonderful qualities that make you who you are. Your life should be a story people will tell, and years down the road when someone says your name, perhaps it will elicit laughter, maybe even tears, and the stories will begin. And sometimes there will be someone in the room who smiles to themselves and whispers… “I must have gotten that from them,” feeling connected to the memory of the person people will never stop talking about.
This is a blog I wrote for Death Doula Network International
Their website: www.ddnint.com