“Legacy” is on my mind today, accompanied by tears. It’s a word, representing a concept, that is intimidating to some. What if we fear we have no “legacy” to leave?
Anyway, I’m encountering my thoughts about the subject today…apparently due to a convergence of events and memories. And so, I’ll do what I always do, write to discover what’s up. Maybe these few notions will serve as encouragement for you to take some time with this “L” word for yourself.
- The first tears were for my Dad, Richard L. Johnson, who died 30 years go on Memorial Day Weekend 1986. For the subsequent 10 years the tears came unbidden on exactly the day, often inviting me to wonder why, and to finally remember the significance of the timing. He and my Mom left me at least one amazing legacy.
Last week, I visited the current owners of that legacy, the Johnson family “estate” beneath the mountain, where I lived for 12 years after returning home to retire and heal. More tears. It was the delicious fruit of my Dad’s mid-life interest in conservation—an old house with character–a 40-acre field and forest—saved from development forever, which I got to pass on to two professors of environmental science, pioneering the new field of Eco-Restoration in their own back 40.
- Today, I received in the mail a notice from the Brewster Conservation Trust, a non-profit model for protection of vistas, clean drinking water, nature trails. My own brother’s late-in-life mission at 73 continues to significantly extend the conservation legacy of my father to the benefit of future generations on Cape Cod Bay. He plays the long game of sustaining life on earth.
- Now for 4+ years, I actually reside within a legacy institution, Providence Place. There, the few remaining Sisters of Providence are carefully planning the demise of the Order, and establishing their legacy as an organization which has built hospitals, food banks, homes for the homeless, and a retreat center. These institutions will forever grace the State of Massachusetts. The Sisters inspire me for the way they are cementing the record of their 142-year history and their renowned standards of service excellence. The next generation of lay leaders for these institutions has a lot to live up to, but at least they are going to know what standards they must continue to shoot for.
- And finally, at 76, being profoundly touched by the legacies that grace my life, I find myself deeply grieving my own aging. This, as I play with the questions that arise for me and for anyone who approaches or resides in their third chapter of life: “How will I live my remaining years, and what will I leave behind?”
As the first wave of “boomers” enter their 70’s, and the last of them slip into their 50’s, the largest generational demographic is now in full view of their mortality. I’d like to assume we’re on the cusp of a huge explosion of much more interesting and intimate conversations about life, and, an awareness that we need to keep growing into this next stage of living that is revealing itself to us as we live it. Not only did we not anticipate the gift of such longevity, we were neither provided a curriculum nor a map.
What questions arise for you about life and legacy? What fears? How can surrendering to the realities of loss in our larger world, and our ongoing personal losses, compel an equal impetus to also honor the perspectives, wisdom, and potential legacies we can leave? How can we allow deep grieving an expression? How can we accept our aging and share something of our wisdom in both tangible and intangible ways? For those of a practical bent, what’s our later-in-life “gig”?
My emerging late-in-life mission seems to be falling into the arena of dealing with these important questions and helping others to create their own map for the years ahead. I love to provide space, time, support, guidance, presence and encouragement to women over 60, eager and ready for the ”third chapter conversations” which will help them assure that life ongoing could be filled with years of living more true to themselves.
Transitions to something new, particularly something one is creating, are often difficult…particularly trying to do it alone…without a map. That said, I do believe the hopes and dreams that underlie each of our third chapter questions and concerns are very achievable.
We need not shrink from the growth our hopes and dreams will require of us. We start by daring to name, affirm, and allow the possibility of what we are wanting. We can live a healthy life after 60 and we can figure out how. We can choose a vibrant elderhood over the less attractive prospect of vanishing into decrepitude. We don’t need to leave a mess for our children. We can have a “good” and peaceful death. And we can do it together.
However, it does take a bit of “sooner than later” courage to start the juicy conversations, with self, with a journey guide, with family, and with one’s medical and legal team.
And, if you are so inclined to try a conversational experiment with other like-minders, click on the link for information about local Third chapter conversations, last of a series of four, starting on June 15 at the Holyoke COA. Perhaps I’ll see you there.
Useful reference: Legacies of the Heart by Meg Newhouse, PhD.