Years ago, I was checking out fabric where I saw my neighbor doing the same thing. An amazing fiber artist, I asked what her new project was going to be. She told me she was making baby quilts, one for each her son’s first children. Given that neither of her sons were close to being married, let alone fathers, I looked rather puzzled. My friend explained that her health situation, she had several chronic conditions, was such she didn’t know if she’d live to see grand kids, or if she did, she’d have the strength to make quilts. In short, she wanted to make sure that her future grandchildren would have a memory of her as a fiber artist.
Because I'm also the director of a historical society, I’ve read a lot of journals and family histories. Sometimes a family member just make us a copy of it, other times the family is gone but they don’t know what to do with it so they drop it off at the Museum. One of my favorite items came from a nurse in WWII who kept a diary of her war experiences. These are incredible windows into our past and you’d be surprised how they impact the future.
After my town was ravaged by tropical storm Irene in 2011, I went back to the journals and articles written by people after the flood of 1927, which had also devastated the town. Their stories helped us cope with our disaster. The year Irene occurred was a historic one for the town as we were to celebrate our 250th birthday just six weeks after the flood. Everything was damaged, yet we knew it was important that we mark that occasion if for no other reason, we wanted to send a message to future generations that they too would have disasters, but they could be resilient and move beyond it.
Legacy helps those who come after us know that we have thought and cared about them as well as what we wish for them.
At any age, thinking about a legacy is appropriate. Consider the following ways you can do this:
• Keep track of your family’s history and organize it in a specific space where people know where it is. This can include genealogy research, scrapbooks, baby books, recipe books, recordings of family members telling stories, videos etc. Keep in mind that anything you do electronically needs to be updated yearly as technology changes so rapidly.
• Set up an educational fund for children. It sends a message of your expectations and hopes for them as well as eases the financial burden. There are many different ways to set up scholarship funds and laws very by state so the best recommendation is to start by calling your local bank and discuss this with them. They will have dealt with this request before and can be of considerable help. There are scholarship crowding funding sites, such as Gradsave, that may be right for your situation since it allows people to donate similar to how one uses a gift registry.
• Write letters. My mother started doing this in the last decade of her life. For different holidays, she would send us all letters describing how she celebrated them as a child, memorable ones etc. These were wonderful keepsakes. Some people write letters before their child is even born, outlining all the things they want for that child. For more ideas and samples, check out Letter writing.
• Make something special. As my neighbor was doing, if you have a special skill, make items in advance when you have time, energy and funds. I have a friend that’s a weaver and she creates incredible shawls and scarves that she gives to family and friends along with a note that lets them know that as they wrap themselves in her work, she is cradling them in love. What a keepsake. Make sure you note who the items are for, when they should be distributed, and have someone in addition to yourself that knows where they are being kept.
• Support causes and organizations that mean a lot to you.
• Be a mentor
• Keep a journal: It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, just simple notations of what is happening in your life will mean a great deal to future generations.
• If you are a caregiver, you can help create someone’s legacy for future generations by keeping track of stories they tell you as well as what they want to happen after they are gone.