Lifestyle

Legacies are left behind

Yesterday, I had the lovely opportunity to connect with one of my clients over lunch.

One of the greatest gifts I receive in my line of work is having the chance to share life stories, be it theirs or mine. Working with an aging population provides an appreciation to sit and think about life – the good, the bad and as my Dad always added, the ugly.

As I sit and listen to the weaving of a senior's life events, one word always pops into my head – legacy.

Last night I felt like the mouse in Laura Numeroff's circular tale If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

I started thinking about my own Dad and the legacy he left behind for his family. This prompted me to find his memory book, which lead to a whole other list of activities, which were not on my "to-do list."

I remember so clearly the days leading up to his funeral. They were filled with immense sadness and grief.

Yet, those days were equally filled with tributes from friends, colleagues and family. We reminisced over old and recent photographs, untold stories and forever lasting memories about Dad.

It was at that moment, I realized that my Dad meant something different and unique to each of his friends, his children and grandchildren.

As I delved into his life story, his triumphs, his adventure and challenges, his legacy emerged. Not only was this legacy important for us, his children, but just as important for his grandchildren.

My daughter never got to meet her grandfather and yet she reads about his legacy whenever she wants to through a memory book our family created.

As adult children we are quite good at understanding what drives children and young adults — we've been there and/or we are raising children traveling through various stages towards adulthood.

But no adult child really knows what it's like to be 80 or 90 years old.

In fact, most of us are still moving forward in life — getting ahead financially, advancing careers, watching our kids become parents themselves, etc. We are also very task-oriented; making lists, crossing off items, setting goals — just to name a few.

Our aging parents or "grandfriends" are typically on a very different journey.

They are leaving this familiar middle-aged world and starting to take stock of their lives — looking backwards and finding meaning through a life review. They are thinking about how they want to be remembered.

As adult children or family friends, we need to take the time now — before they are gone — to allow our aging parents and grandparents to express themselves through long ago stories, people, places and relationships.

It's called listening for legacy.

As 2013 comes to an end, why not take an opportunity to ask an elder in your life about what they think their legacy is and create a beautiful and meaningful way to link the past with the present.

If you want more information about creating memory books or legacy project, go to www.legacyproject.org.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Thursday.

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