Leaving a legacy isn’t optional. Every day that you are living you’re making your mark on the world. Your kindness lives in the hearts of those you’ve shared it with. Your harshness wounds those you’ve inflicted it on.
When you die - and someone writes your obituary - what do you want it to say? I want mine to talk about how I made people feel. Loved. Heard. Understood. Included. That’s the legacy I want to leave behind.
As an end-of-life doula I have the honor of working with the dying and their circle of care. When I get to know a client I ask what is most pressing for them. We don’t always work on legacy projects. Sometimes we talk about logistics - getting advanced directives done, supports lined up so they are likely to die at home when that’s their wish. But a lot of time we talk about legacy.
People want their children, partners, and dear friends to know how much they cherish them. They want to share those things they loved most in life with future generations. And in those cases we talk about legacy and remembrance projects.
Legacy and remembrance projects can be grand or humble. But no matter what they’re a gift. Many gifts. Planning a legacy project forces you to reflect on your values. Working on a project is a way of living your values. And after you are gone they are a gift to those you’ve left behind. A legacy project might look like:
In some cases family and friends choose to do a legacy project in honor of a loved one who has passed. It’s a beautiful way to not only honor a person, but to tend to grief for someone who had died. Reflecting on a person's role in your life, what was unique about them, what interests made them come alive is a healing - and yet sometimes still painful - process.
I love supporting legacy projects and I think they’re so valuable. I hope you'll consider the legacy you will leave behind and the legacy of each your loved ones who has already died.
While you've heard of Alzheimer's and dementia you may not know a great deal about these conditions until they impact you or a loved one. This post contains a brief definition of the conditions, how long the disease progresses, and ways to find local resources for those with a dementia or Alzheimer's diagnosis and their caregivers.
It's common to hear people refer to the two interchangeably, but here is the difference. Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning (thinking, remembering and reasoning) and behavioral abilities (how you interact with other people and respond situations) an extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. The causes of dementia can vary, depending on the types of brain changes that may be taking place. Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simple tasks. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia among older adults.
Alzheimer's disease, and dementia caused by Alzheimer's disease, tends to develop slowly and gradually worsens over several years. Progressing through the stages can occur over the course of a decade with the middle stages lasting the longest, typically for many years. During the middle stage of Alzheimer’s, the dementia symptoms are more pronounced. the person may confuse words, get frustrated or angry, and act in unexpected ways, such as refusing to bathe.
If you are trying to find local resources for those with Alzheimer's or dementia consider searching for:
The Alzheimer’s Association is another fantastic source of information. They not only provide resources through their website, but also have a 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.
The NIA (National Institute on Aging) has resources online as well as a helpline. Alzheimer's and Related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center (part of NIA) offers information on diagnosis, treatment, patient care, caregiver needs, long-term care, and research and clinical trials related to Alzheimer's disease. Staff can refer you to local and national resources. Their number is 1-800-438-4380.
Many communities also have support groups for caregivers that are accessible in-person and online. Area Agencies on Aging, Senior Centers, libraries, local hospitals, primary caregivers, hospice agencies, and the Alzheimer's Association are all good resources for connecting with caregiver support groups.
Mother’s Day, a holiday dedicated to appreciating all the things our mother figures do and are, is a beautiful thing. For many years, Mom and I celebrated by planting flowers together. I was not always gracious about it. Now I am physically further away and so we celebrate differently. Although, Mom does get a kick out of it when I buy flowers and spend time planting with my daughter. “Oh, now you like flowers!” I am seeing in real-time how those years Mom and I spent together shaped me (and my love of flowers) and are now shaping my daughter.
My partner has this beautiful story about his Mother's Day tradition. He and his brother would get on bikes, peddle down to the florist, and buy flowers for his mom, Diana. I smile thinking about him choosing flowers and carefully bringing them back on his bike. The effort was part of the gift.
I never got to physically meet Diana. She died in 2009, before my partner and I started seeing each other. But her presence and absence is part of our life, and I think that’s right. Sometimes it’s sad. We missed having her there for big moments, like our wedding, and physically meeting our daughter. But sometimes we're happy, like when family members share stories about vacations to Sunny Hill where Diana set the AC as high as it could go and everyone else wore layers in the dead of summer to survive the cold of the room.
Our relationships with the dead, it turns out, are as complex as our relationships with the living.
It’s normal to grieve the mother figures no longer physically with us on Mother’s Day. It’s also normal to grieve the maternal relationships we did (or didn’t) have. The relationships that exist, but not in the way we yearn for. Or that have changed dramatically. It’s also normal to grieve children who are gone.
You can take care of yourself by acknowledging your grief, which can be as simple as pausing when an emotion comes up and naming it. The emotion might be sadness, such as missing your loved one's physical presence. But it might be positive, such as happiness at sharing a laugh together.
You can support someone who is grieving by saying their loved one’s name. You’re not going to harm them by acknowledging their loss. You can say something like, “I have been thinking about how you might miss Diana today. I miss her too.”