CoSozo Living

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Wed, July 1, 2009
Creating Lasting Legacies
Let’s face it – we all want to feel like our presence here on Earth has made a difference in some way. We all bring unique perspectives, unique histories, and unique memories to our lives and those who share them with us. What better way to establish a lasting legacy than to take steps to ensure your legacy lives on?

There are lots of fun ways to provide the gifts of your knowledge, your humor, and your experiences for generations to come. Even better, some of those activities you can do on your own and other activities can be made even more entertaining and fulfilling by inviting your loved ones to participate with you.

The simple truth is that when we die, regardless what we may leave materially for our loved ones, we really do take with us the only thing that they really will want once we’re gone – ourselves. The easiest and most holistic way to ensure longevity of your experiences and memories is to establish an active practice of storytelling within your own family.

Previous generations, before our advanced digital age, relied on storytelling within the family to pass down family legacies, to help bond the family with their ancestor’s experiences, and to establish a living, rich, oral history of their lives together. One of the greatest aspects of storytelling is that it’s never too late to start such a tradition. If you have a young family, start creating a special time of the day perhaps during dinner when you can all share the best part of your day, or set aside a little time each week to share your stories with one another about your experiences both individually and collectively as a family.

By sharing stories, you create a lasting memory, not only of the memory being shared but also of the times you spend sharing those memories. The repetition of the stories helps as well as these stories become a part of your oral history, and the retelling of those stories in itself creates lasting memories of those times together.

Another approach to sharing your own personal story is to write a memoir. Writing a memoir can be a powerful way to leave a lasting connection with your loved ones. By writing about your life, your experiences and perspectives, you provide an easy reference and connection to you for your loved ones after you’re gone.

In addition, writing a memoir can stir up old, fond memories and enable you to embrace some of the events of your life that truly brought you joy as well as to provide yourself with an opportunity to be introspective and adventurous on aspects of your life and personality that you may not have looked at before. Writing a memoir can be extremely cathartic. An obvious alternative to writing a memoir is to write an autobiography. Autobiographies are very similar to memoirs but are often less theme-oriented and more chronologically oriented over the duration of an entire lifetime.

We all have rich, intricate inner lives – much of which we rarely share with others. What aspects of your personality and your choices, your likes and dislikes are important for you to share with the generations of your loved ones that come after you? What gems of wisdom have you learned through your successes and challenges in your life? There are a few keys to documenting your experiences to remember before you start writing:
  1. What you write will affect those reading it. If you choose to document insights and experiences that you would rather remain private, you should use a journal and establish an understanding with your loved ones regarding your desire that they remain private after your passing. For all other experiences and modes of documenting them, it is important to remember that although it may feel like a personal and private journey while in the progress of writing, what you write will be read by others.
  2. If you choose to write a memoir, there should be a theme and it should read like a fiction story of your life – engaging, lively, and captivating – although the events and experiences are true.
  3. If there is controversy, consider leaving out names or writing things in a way that won’t hurt your loved ones.

Another method of creating a record of your experiences is to have other people share theirs with you. Many people use major events, such as a major birthday or anniversary for these types of events but you can really do it at any time. Simply get a scrapbook or photo book that can be dismantled and send one page to your close friends, family and loved ones. Then ask that they tell their favorite story of you and return it, or even have them bring them to a party where you can all share the stories together.

You can invite your loved ones to include pictures, or even items that make them think of you, and to write a story of length detailing their most favorite time with you, their most cherished memory of you, etc. It can be quite fascinating to see yourself through the eyes of others, and often, the memories they have of you may be quite surprising and delightful!

Another way to leave a legacy for your family and loved ones is to trace your family tree, which is known officially as genealogy. Discovering who your ancestors were can be enormously fascinating and profoundly honoring to those who came before you. Some individuals are fascinated by the vast history of their family lifeline and where their ancestors came from, where they lived, who they married, etc.

There are a variety of software tools that can help with this process and all kinds of local support groups to assist individuals who are searching for their family’s ancestors. Of course it’s no surprise that the internet is also proving to be an enormous resource amateur genealogists as well. Some genealogy sites are free while other, often more robust websites offer specific services for a monthly membership fee.

You may also want to spend some time categorizing your photos, videos, and even audio recordings if you have them. Scrapbooking has become a billion dollar industry over the past decade or so, and there are often several local stores that specialize in scrapbooking materials. Many women especially find that joining a scrapbooking group can provide an opportunity for a social gathering while putting together artfully organized treasured memories into books that can very simple or enormously elegant.

Scrapbooking as a hobby can be quite expensive, but if you pool your scrapbooking supplies with other enthusiasts and trade items, the cost can be diminished considerably. Additionally, you really don’t need all of the latest scrapbooking trinkets in order to make a scrapbook. You can cut words out from magazines, or even print from your printer on colored paper, use scrap fabrics or even use crayons to get a nicely laid out book. Choose photos or trinkets that have meaning to you and create a book that tells a story of a particular event in your life.

What you create, in the end, is really a question of personal taste. Some women can do an entire book in an afternoon, while it can take weeks for others to complete a single page. Ultimately what matters is that you’re happy with the end result and that it tells the story you want to tell.

For those who are technologically inclined, you can also transfer old video, photos, audio, and even slide or picture negatives to a more current and durable media for your loved ones. If you aren’t savvy with technology or feel that those efforts would best be left to someone with more expertise, you might hire a local company who specializes in that field, or you can probably even find a young family member who is up on the latest technology to do it for you. Old photos can color and diminish with age so having them transferred to a more durable media can extend those treasured memories for generations to come.

Whatever method you choose will be cherished not only by you, but also your loved ones. In truth, the greatest gift you have to share with your loved ones and the world is the kindness of your heart and your willingness to love and be loved by others. But it can be a very loving gesture to help preserve some of your memories and experiences for your loved ones, and a very rewarding activity for you as well.

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