Original Art with heart images

Legacy of Love

In my part of the world summer has arrived. Well, it is trying! Today is a cloudy, cooler day, but still nice enough that the furnace and air conditioner are both silent, the windows are open, and flowers are blooming. I’ll take it.

Last month another beautiful soul left a body behind. I attended a funeral packed with people who ALL agreed that Chris was the best of the best. Stories were told and laughter was shared amidst the tears, and it got me thinking about life, legacy, and love given and received.

A Giant Among Men

Chris was larger than life. He had a great sense of humour, lived to ensure that his family was happy and had everything they needed, worked hard and played hard. Having endured colon cancer, he was able to pass away at home in his own bed. This was in no small part thanks to his wonderful wife, Tanya. In a meeting with the family before Chris died, the only thing that mattered to Tanya was that Chris was able to have everything he wanted – and that meant privacy, family and being at home with no more agonizing trips to the hospital. The love between Tanya and Chris was palpable and extended to their two wonderful teenagers. I’ve never worked with a more beautiful family. As I worked with this family, I quickly became a huge fan of Tanya.

Chris and Tanya
Chris and Tanya

Tanya was the caregiver for at least 14 months before Chris died. Being a caregiver is one of the hardest, most draining roles we will ever take on. It’s a responsibility impossible to overestimate or quantify. Tanya did it with grace, understanding and patience and at the expense of her own self-care, knowing that the sacrifice ultimately was temporary, knowing the sacred space she and Chris were in – the space of the death journey. What she did almost completely on her own for Chris was the epitome of what we wish for the dying, as death doulas: that people are able to die in whatever place they call home, with their loved ones around them, feeling supported. Tanya was an amazing death doula, even while managing her own profound grief and ensuring the emotional and psychological safety of her children. I was blown away by her energy, her understanding and her love.

By the time I met Chris, he had lost 170 pounds. He was gaunt and frail. He was in pain, and he was depressed. I realized very quickly that Chris was fading and that it wasn’t going to be possible to get to know him.

From left to right: Tanya, Parker, Chris and Ri
From left to right: Tanya, Parker, Chris and Ri.

It was the funeral that led me to Chris’s legacy of laughter, joy and love. Here’s the thing: You don’t get to the end of life with people at your funeral filling a room with love unless you lived that way. There were hundreds of people at the funeral, and it struck me that Chris touched every one of them. The way that he touched them was joyful. Chris’s energy is something that they will feel every time they think of him and the outrageous and hilarious hijinks they shared. The presence of so many people at the funeral, loving Chris, telling funny stories and saying their goodbyes, gave energy to Tanya and the children – the fact that people showed up to hold space –  was life-affirming in the face of tragedy. And that energy will last years – decades even.
Isn’t that incredible?

Did You?

Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife. The first question was, “Did you bring joy?” The second was, “Did you find joy?”. I think these are profound yardsticks in measuring a life well-lived.

Many people talk about living each day with purpose and fullness – living each day as if it were your last. How is today going? Would you make any changes for tomorrow?

Love and Legacy in Action

Here are some examples of legacy as a more intimate act:

One grandmother, who knew she was dying, gathered her young grandchildren around. She had purchased a bunch of brown paper lunch bags and about 200 tulip bulbs. She and her grandchildren sat around the table, and she instructed the children to fill each bag with 4-5 tulip bulbs. At her funeral a few months later, the brown paper bags were distributed to attendees along with a note that said, “Plant these on your commute to work so that every Spring you will have something beautiful to see.” I love that.

One of my first clients had three adult daughters. She had always been crafty and creative and fondly remembered doing craft activities when her children were young. She started knitting three beautiful winter scarves, and with my assistance (a doula errand to buy gift bags and measuring tapes), she left the scarves, knitting needles and all the wool needed for each daughter to finish her special scarf.

Another client left letters for her children and grandchildren – letting them know how proud she was of each one of them and encouraging them to be themselves and live life fully. She left a letter to her sister that, in essence, said, “We had a bet about who would outlive the other. You won, but you are going to have a heck of a time collecting the money!”

Reveal Your Legacy, Reveal Yourself

Grandmother, Mother and Baby

The website Living with Purpose says, “Your Personal Legacy is more than simply a statement of how you wish to be remembered after you pass on. It is something that enriches your life and reveals to you what your life is about to your family, friends, and your community.”
I like the idea of legacy “revealing you.” People can create a legacy in so many ways:

  • Being a mentor, teacher or coach
  • Contributing positively to their community, for example, helping to create a community garden, serving on a committee, showing up as a good neighbour
  • Sharing their talents or gifts – painting, baking, woodworking – the possibilities are endless
  • Raising children and grandchildren
  • Land and wildlife conservation
  • Heirlooms and family stories passed down from generation to generation
  • Donating to causes or creating a scholarship
  • A family vacation tradition

If you are interested in a learning more about how you can create a personal legacy or how a death doula can help you and your loved ones at end-of-life, contact me. Let’s talk.

I think Chris ticked a lot of boxes – likely many times over. He serves as a great reminder that legacy is not something that you have after you die. Legacy is your life now – every moment like a pebble dropped in the water – the ripple effect of which you will not live to see. May you drop pebbles of love and joy wherever you are.

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