Sunday, August 21, 2011

Leaving a Legacy

She was 85, looked bewildered and paused, seemingly groping for an answer to why she did not have a will.  "I didn't think I needed one.  I don't have much to leave anyone."  I explained how dying without a will is like going away, indefinitely, and leaving your house locked without trusting a family member, neighbor or anyone with the key.  No one can get into your home without a court order.  You have not decided who should have the right to take possession of your private domain and muddle through your personal effects.  No one has been told what you want to happen if you are not there to make that decision.  You leave a mess.  Chaos, confusion and conflict are the result of the lack of instructions you leave behind.  She nodded, silently acknowledging her failure as we began to discuss the topic that feared her most, her death and what would be left behind. 
No one likes to think about dying, or about what one will leave behind.  Perhaps it is uncertainty about what lies beyond the borders of one’s brain and body.  We have no experience with anything but the lives we have lived.  Maybe it is a dread that, besides an empty spot at some dinner table, we will not be missed much.  It could be that it is just too difficult to decide among the competing interests in, and claims to, your worldly possessions.   Given those concerns, there is some, minimal I suggest, logic to postponing the process of making a will, a permanent posthumous promise.
However, on the flip side, we have to admit that we are all in the process of leaving a legacy.  We will all be remembered, at least by someone for some period of time.  There seems to be something deeply embedded in the core of who we are that craves remembrance after we are gone.  Everyone had some level longs to leave a legacy.  And that's a good thing.  It is recognition that one is accountable for how one lives.  For some there are eternal consequences, whereas for others life provides simply temporal significance.
Age, and its cohort of diminishing capacities, has a way of focusing our attention on what it will be like when we are gone.  Life increasingly becomes a matter of what was, rather than what will be.  What, if anything, will people miss about us?  What will their fondest memories of us be?  What did we start, build or accomplish that will continue or remain?  Will the deposits we made in the World Bank of Good Things have outstripped our withdrawals?  Or will we have taken from the physical world and our human community more than we contributed to them?  Will others seek to follow the footprints we leave behind or pointed the impact they have left with discussed.
Parkinson's disease has a way of putting things in stark relief.  It is a reminder that I need to consider my legacy.  It is a reminder that I need to do my will.

No comments:

Post a Comment