As many of you know, I recently began something called The Legacy Song Project, where I have begun interviewing people who have lost loved ones as well as people who are at the end of life, and writing personalized songs to honour the memory and legacy of the person who it is for. This has already proved to be extremely meaningful and moving work, and I truly do not have the words for what a privilege it is to sit and listen to the stories and memories that are shared.
I wanted to speak a little more about Legacy Projects in general, as they are by no means limited to the way I have chosen and can take many unique forms. In his book Finding Peace at the End of Life, Henry Fersko-Weiss says that a person’s legacy is the impact they have had – conscious or unconscious – on the people and world around them. The form a legacy takes is limited only by the imagination and creativity of the people who fashion it. It can center on a single important aspect of a person’s life or a host of things that mattered to them or to the people around them.
The content might come from:
– identifying the things that were most important to the person
– major life events
– values they held
– key lessons they learned
– their relationship with family and friends
– involvement in the community
– how the person hopes or hoped to be remembered
The capturing of these becomes the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual inheritance that family and friends receive because that person was part of their life.
The benefits of creating legacy projects for folks at the end of life are significant – it can give them a sense of purpose, allow them to stay connected to who they are at a time when their sense-of-self might be rapidly changing, and the focused activity can even lessen physical symptoms such as pain and anxiety. For the family, it can help them to engage with their loved one in a substantial and positive way, and can open the door for them to offer and accept words of forgiveness, thanks, and love. These positive outcomes for the family tend to continue into the bereavement experience after the person dies. Legacy work does not have to start before a person dies, but can also be something family and friends partake in any time after the person’s death, as it becomes a way to engage with their loved one’s life as they grieve and acts as a continued reminder of the role that person played in their lives.
Ideas for legacy projects may include:
Creating a recipe book of the person’s favourite meals that can be shared and added to by friends and family
Creating a playlist of the person’s favourite songs, or songs that held meaning for them
Collecting anecdotes from friends and family about the person and creating a small book of stories
Creating a painting together
Writing letters to your loved ones before you die
Creating a legacy scroll that can include photos, quotes, stories, drawings to be displayed or kept for special occasions
Making a legacy quilt from materials important to the person (favourite sweater, baby blanket, t-shirts)
Having a personalized bird feeder or bench in a location important to your loved one
Create a video/audio recording
These are just a few ideas of the infinite number of ways we can remember our loved ones. How would your loved ones want to be remembered? In what way would you choose to pass your legacy on to your loved ones? It is never too soon to start thinking about these things, and in contemplating what we want our legacy to be when we leave this world, will shape how we want to live today.
Thank you for reading,
Fersko-Weiss, H. (2020). Finding Peace at the End of Life: A Death Doula’s Guide for Families and Caregivers.