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What kind of legacy do you want to leave?

Have you ever thought about what your legacy will be? 

Kinda a random question, I know. But given my line of work, it’s something I think about fairly often because it reveals a lot about how we’re living right now. A ‘begin at the end’ sorta thing…

Stick with me, this gets interesting.

You cannot leave this world without having a legacy.

A legacy is more than a hospital wing in your name. It’s not something reserved for the wealthy or elite. Your legacy is in the lives you touch.

As Maya Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

Perhaps your legacy is as simple as your sunny disposition – the fact you always greeted others with a big smile, a kind word, and an awesome hug. Or how you could brighten up anyone’s day with a Dad joke, some silly dance moves, and an uplifting story.

Perhaps your legacy is the fact that you were always there for your people. They know they could call and count on you. Maybe you were generous with your time, talents, or money.

The big accomplishments and grand gestures might feel more glamorous or sexy but I’m convinced the real wealth of our legacy lies in the connections we make. In loving and being loved. In showing up for others in meaningful ways.

One way death doulas help clients to define their legacy is through a Life Review. It’s a series of questions that helps the dying person to see the impact of their life, the beauty they experienced, and the wisdom they collected.

Sounds kinda beautiful, right? So, I encourage you to grab a journal and answer these questions for yourself. And if you find there’s something you’d like to change – well, no time like the present to make those changes. 

Here are some examples of questions that might be included in a Life Review…
  • What experiences of being alive have you enjoyed the most? (think favourite smells and tastes, favourite sensations like toes in the ocean or cozy blankets next to a fire)
  • What are your most meaningful relationships (mentors, friends, etc)?
  • Who did you love? (this can include pets!)
  • What’s your message to the world? (what would you write on a billboard?)
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What expressions did you use often?
  • What did you learn in your 20s, 30s, 40s, etc?
  • What decisions had the most impact on your life? (i.e. quitting that job, taking that trip, ending that relationship…)
  • What were you passionate about? (i.e. women’s rights, the arts…)
  • How did you spend your spare time?
  • How did you deal with life’s challenges?
  • When people describe you, what do you hope they will say?

From life reviews to eulogies

The great thing about a Life Review is that it can also be used to create a eulogy. And you don’t have to wait and let someone else write it. Yes, you can write your own eulogy and include the things you want to be remembered for like your gender identity journey or the work you did to combat systemic oppression. Writing your own eulogy allows you to control the narrative and emphasize what’s most important to you.

We’re used to seeing boring obituaries and solemn eulogies that often fail to capture the magic of the person being remembered. But eulogies can also be creative, touching, and even fun AND funny.

Here are some ideas of what to say…

  • Epic fails and triumphant wins
  • Adventures/ favourite vacation spots
  • Catchphrases
  • Opinions (good or bad!) they had
  • The joy, the heartbreak, the quirks, and the legends
  • What they loved as a child
  • Beloved pets
  • Sports teams they loved or were a part of
  • What they studied at school and what they enjoyed most
  • Legendary college pranks
  • Memorable jobs they had over the years
  • Passions/ hobbies
  • The importance of family (biological or found)
  • Stories they loved to tell
  • Values in action
  • The advice they gave you
  • Their favourite things: food, movies, music, holidays, quotes

If the relationship was difficult you can acknowledge the challenges they faced but try not to make it the main focus – we are more than the sum of our mistakes.

Try collecting memories from family and friends and listening for recurring themes.

Tips for Delivering the Eulogy

It can be an incredible honour to be asked to give the eulogy. And it can be kinda terrifying if public speaking isn’t your thing. So here are a few tips to help you get through it…

  • Start by introducing yourself and your relationship to the deceased
  • Use the rule of 3 when composing the eulogy – 3 stories, 3 memories, 3 accomplishments, or 3 character traits
  • Include something specific about the major loved ones in their life
  • Aim for 4 – 7 minutes and practice it
  • Give yourself some grace – it’s okay if your emotions are running high, you won’t be the only one
  • Aim for a conversational tone – soft heart, light voice, easy delivery
  • Do a read-through with a friend before, this helps a lot

For most of us, the legacy we leave and the stories that will be told about us are still being written. What a great time to look back and celebrate how far we’ve come. And also choose to create a life that we’ll be proud of when it comes time for our loved ones to speak about our time here on this spinning blue dot called earth.

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