the Mystery of Legacy

Yes, I want my life to have mattered to the world.  And yes, I want my life to matter to me.  The first others will decide.  For the second I can review, reflect, reevaluate my skills and interests and passions.  I can listen to what’s deeply calling to me, and recreate at any moment, a life that more fully matters to me. 

At whatever time you are called to STOP to make some changes,   whether it be in your fifties, your sixties, your seventies, or even your eighties (in my case it was my seventies), we have the remaining days in which to create a joyful, meaningful life, a life we won’t be regretting on our deathbeds.  Daring to give that gift to ourselves, likely gives us the best chance to have others also notice that how we lived may have left its mark. 

It’s never too late to think about how we want to be remembered, and to do something about it.  That being so, the Peer Spirits of Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea  suggest the paradoxical nature of the matter:

“Legacy is not up to us:  legacy is a decision made by those who go on after us.   Our job is to keep depositing the best of ourselves in as many ways as we can, for as long as we can, and to lay down at the end of our lives, trusting the mystery”.

So be it!

What is the best of yourself that’s calling for your attention?

Remaining Days? A Gift!

More and more I am focusing on my “remaining days.”  For me, in my 80th year, those words refer to the unknown number of days, months and years that remain to me in which I will consider how to both LIVE WELL and prepare to DIE WELL.  For any reader who is getting nervous or discouraged at my mere reference to “death”, take a risk and stay here with me.

The notion of remaining days can exist in many contexts. For instance, I’ve just completed the remaining days of summer this last week. I had planned to end the 2019 season with a last swim, and did so.

Another familiar way we can talk about are the remaining days, months or years is when reaching the milestone years of 30 or 50, or 60. An earlier phase of life has just ended. In this case, with our unexpected gift of longevity  there’s usually much more to come.  The fact that we may feel those remaining days in a variety of  contexts, will tend to provoke some urgency to consider the question, “What do I need to get done before this chapter or this season ends?”  Or, “How shall I prepare for my next stage of life?”

I will admit that I first saw my life through the lens of  a different kind of “remaining days” at 74. I was a little nervous.   I had never before deeply contemplated a FINAL end, after which there would be NO NEXT PHASE.  What ultimately surprised me was that dealing with the reality of my own mortality catapulted me into a different context for “what now?” and “what next?”   I would have x number of days, months, years more to live and that would be that.  As opposed to a next phase, there would be a next week or a tomorrow.

So, I started an exploration.  I gathered friends equally curious.  We talked.  We laughed and cried.  We posed a key question to ourselves: “What are the tasks of this final chapter of life?”  Our tentative answers to ourselves resulted in a very lengthy self-created curriculum from which to select and prioritize our activities.   Depending on age and energy, my friends and I took on projects which were important to each of us:   We scheduled bucket list travels, learned to play Mah Jong, organized our family pictures, wrote our wills, donated our bodies to science, and talked to our families about our end-of-life wishes.

We wanted most of all to not leave a mess to our survivors.  And as aging beings, ranging from 55 – 75,  we wanted to maintain our health and happiness and usefulness in the communities to which we belonged.

We contemplated the notion of using our remaining days as two-fold:  To LIVE WELL and to prepare to DIE WELL.  That would be our LEGACY.  An important one at that.

The notion of  having “remaining days” at 74 has been a gift of real focus. I don’t find it discouraging.  My priorities for joy, creativity, community, contribution, health, and not leaving a mess, are front and center.  I’d like to invite others to move beyond any fears and share the fun.

It’s easy to think “Oh, I’ve got plenty of time. I don’t need to be 10 years too early tying up the loose ends of my life.”  What keeps me on target is the clarity that being one day too late just simply won’t do.

The Legacy of Dying

What a title!  “You think too much about dying, Martha,”  folks will say to me.  Well, I’m living in my 80th year. The certainty that I will DIE, the universal Master Teacher, returns my focus back to the fact that I still have time to LIVE.

A recent memorial service for a neighbor in my senior residence touched me deeply.  A small glimpse of a portion of the legacy this woman had left behind was inspiring.  Carla’s service reminded me to get busy with a few of the legacy tasks over which I still do have some control.

Her son referenced the wonderful memoir his mother wrote over her two year participation in our writing group.  Consequently her family is in proud possession of her life story…in her own words.   Three months before she died, she had shared part of that story about her life growing up in World War II Germany with fellow residents. And, the paintings she created in the art group are in demand by members of her family.  Her grandchildren related powerful stories about being with “Oma” which will live forever in their memories.  The beautiful music accompanying the service reminded more than one of my neighbors that they wish to carefully make their selections now and communicate their choices to their families.  Attendees were reminded that flowers were not requested.  Preferred was a donation in her name to the Legacy Fund of Providence Place where we all lived.

The way she exited the earth represented a powerful choice and potential option for members of her family.  After being in and out of the hospital several times, she finally said, “OK, this is it.  It’s time.  I am dying.”  She went on hospice and chose to stop eating. Her last years, her dying, and her celebration, thoughtfully ended a life well lived… and left some models for others.  

A legacy, indeed.