Some Thoughts on Legacy Work

My initial thoughts about legacy are twofold. 1) In healthcare chaplaincy–and to some extent social work, “Legacy Work” usually involves making hand prints, taking photographs, hair clippings, or similar arts and crafts to create keepsakes to which a dying patient’s loved ones (especially children) may hold on after their loved one dies. It is not my place to judge the suitability of such exercises for those who may find them meaningful, but I do ask myself, “Is this the best we can do?” (In fairness, helping patient’s create an Ethical Will is also a regularly mentioned possibility as well.)

2) I’m sitting with what Stephen Jenkinson identifies as most people’s real “fear of death”: Not the actual dying, or whether there is an afterlife or not, but, how we will be remembered? This seems to be a motivating observation in much of his work (and Native American piety) around honoring our connection to our ancestors and what they have taught us.

Three potential legacy paths (having kids, planting trees, and writing books) are worth pointing to with intentionality. They are natural human legacy paths, i.e., the kinds of things humans do anyway, each of which will survive our own deaths. The shadow side is they are so imminently practical as to be possibly taken for granted, and to trigger grief expressions as well. What if one’s kids are not “turning out” as one had hoped? What if the relationship is estranged? What if the oak tree you planted in the front yard intending it to outlast you and your children got a disease and died before you did? And what if the blog/book you’ve poured so much of yourself into reads like the contradictory ravings of a confused soul?

Of what value is a life lived in obscurity? How is the world still made better by those who cannot reproduce, plant, or create lasting art? Stephen Hawking is a magnificent example of one who–through technology–overcame debilitating and terminal physical limitations to contribute to our understanding of the cosmos. But how many Hawking minds lay trapped without access to such technology? What is their legacy? I suspect loving and being loved is always enough.

It seems that any intentional way of life and death must be large enough to transcend and include such failures. After all, the spiritual journey of death is the great letting go of everything. Including, sometimes, legacy.

Love One Person

One thought on “Some Thoughts on Legacy Work

  1. nonniesstory April 12, 2021 / 1:25 pm

    Very thoughtful. I really didn’t understand the desire to push a “legacy project” on a dying person. Though it could be seen as a brief positive diversion from the waiting or, after the death, the grief.

    At my uncle’s memorial a few weeks ago, the pastor pointed to the family, children, grandchildren and nieces, as his legacy. He had Alzheimer’s so would not have been able to do “legacy work” intentionally as a preparation for death. He had a will, though how old it was, I don’t know. What was his legacy, besides the family he left behind, was the many stories of his exploits with friends and mentees at the churches he belonged to and fly fishing guides and friends from the CO rivers he loved. I hadn’t been in touch for several years, so hearing the stories brought back the uncle I knew as rugged and humorous. Quite a legacy!

    Thanks for the thoughts on legacy.


    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

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