Leaving a legacy

Okay, I admit it again. I still like to read obituaries.

Sometimes I think it may be because that was the first thing we learned to write in college journalism classes. It wasn’t the most exciting topic, to be sure, but it wasn’t difficult, either, maybe because I had often read obituaries even then.

No, I think I like to read obituaries just because I like to know about these folks. It’s interesting to me to know what their lives have been about, their families, their education and career, what they were involved in outside of all that. Was the deceased dedicated to a specific cause or organization? Were they active in a church? I always check to see who’s a veteran, especially WW II (fewer and fewer of those) and women veterans. I notice their names and think about what that says about them and when they were born. With some names, one can tell about when that person was born. I especially like to read the long obituaries, and I feel a little sad when I see an especially short obituary. Although I believe that brevity is a sign of good writing, it can be difficult to condense a life into six short lines.

One obituary I recently read referred to “her kindness and loving temperament,” and how she “truly found her calling when she became a grandmother.” Another woman’s obituary said “she shared a love of the outdoors with her husband that they passed on to their children.” Even though I didn’t know her, I liked the woman who “adopted any number of friends and acquaintances everywhere she went.” With such phrases, the reader gets a real feeling for the essence of an individual.

So perhaps that leads to a question that was the topic of a radio program I heard recently: What do you want your legacy to be?

That’s a little tougher proposition. It seems to me that a legacy is something that happens while we’re busy leading our lives doing what’s in our obituaries-getting educated and married, raising a family, perhaps, contributing to our communities and the causes that trip our triggers. Perhaps a legacy is the family of strong, loving relatives that we leave behind, as well as the close, enduring relationships with friends forged over the years.

As I was listening to the radio program, I jotted down several of the one-line legacies that were shared.

He came, but his fragrance lingers.

He was an incredible demonstration of the power of faith.

The only hurt she ever caused was when she left us.

Such lovely words and wonderful lives. Rather hard to measure up, both as a writer and as a person.