In Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives, author David Eagleman reminds us that there are three deaths, not one: “The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.” Our lives extend as far into the future as others’ memories of us. Leaving behind a legacy is important because it’s a way for seniors to know that some part of who they were will live on after they die. A legacy is a way to touch the future and to improve the lives of loved ones even long after one’s own death.
Your senior loved one deserves to feel important. Consider how many lives their life has touched, how many memories they’ve formed, and how they’ve shaped the world for the better. That legacy should not be forgotten. Yet too often, seniors mistakenly believe that a legacy is really just about how much money they leave behind or how much success they had in their career. There are myriad ways to sculpt a legacy. Here are six ways you can help your loved one define and shape their own.
1. Help your loved one update their will
Updating a will might not sound thrilling, but it’s the single best way to ensure the fruits of your loved one’s hard work extend into the next generation. Your loved one can set up a trust to pay for the grandkids’ college, leave precious heirlooms to loved ones, donate possessions to charity, or even set up a foundation to benefit a cause they care about for years to come. If your loved one has any assets, schedule an appointment with a lawyer to create a will that honors your loved one’s values and preserves their legacy.
2. Find caregivers for the living creatures your loved one loves
Many seniors deeply love other living creatures. Whether it’s a carefully tended orchid garden, a seed collection harvested through much hard work, a collection of heirloom vegetables, or a scruffy but lovable dog, your loved one deserves to know that their hard work on behalf of these beings won’t be wasted. Talk to your loved one about what they would like you to do with these creatures when they die. Can they begin training a grandchild on the ins and outs of orchid gardening now? Would a lonely relative love to take the dog? Knowing that your living companions will go to a loving home can ensure peace of mind.
3. Pass on family and cultural traditions
Many seniors feel frustrated that their children and grandchildren seem uninterested in their cultural and religious traditions. Particularly if your loved one was an immigrant or a devout practitioner of a specific religion, they may worry that their traditions will die with them. Ask them to teach you about these traditions, then spend time together practicing them. Go to religious services together. Learn how to perform an important cultural ritual. Then treat these rituals with the honor and dignity they deserve.
4. Preserve memories
Our memories are a key part of who we are. Yet as we age, our memories fade. And for seniors with dementia, even the most cherished memories may eventually slip away. Help your loved one preserve their memories by working with them to log the story of their life. Some great ways to do this include:
Helping your loved one write a memoir.
Encouraging your loved one to start a blog, then commenting on it to show you’re reading and interested.
Interviewing your loved one about their life and recording the conversation.
One excellent way to preserve your loved one’s memories for the future is through StoryCorps. StoryCorps helps you record memories in a memory vault that others can then hear. Public radio stations routinely share StoryCorps interviews, neatly demonstrating the power of stories to touch future generations.
5. Build a family memory book
Help your loved one remember the best moments of their life while preserving them for the future by building a family memory book. Gather some scrapbooking supplies and make a family scrapbook. Ask your loved one to write down a few stories about the images in the book. Or consider adding new memories to the book by investing in professional photography.
6. Spend time together
Spending time with your loved one is the single most important thing you can do to build a lasting legacy of memories. It’s easy to get caught up in the desire to make every moment special, capture every photo, or do as many fun activities as possible. This pressure can quickly become a source of stress that erodes the quality of the time you spend together. Don’t feel obligated to do any specific activity. Quiet time spent in nature, a quick conversation, and an enjoyable meal matter just as much as the family trip you planned or the memoir you hope to write. Ultimately, all that’s left when we’re gone are others’ memories of who we were and how we lived. Build your memory bank for the future, and enjoy time with your loved one now.
One way to ensure an excellent legacy is to reduce caregiver burden. Many loved ones find themselves so overwhelmed by the daily tasks involved with tending to their loved one that they forget to take a deep breath and enjoy the time they have together. The right senior living community can give your loved one an amazing next chapter while reducing the stress of caregiving. To learn more, check out our free guide, The Journey to Senior Living.