The sad truth is that we will not escape this lifetime alive. It’s an undeniable fact that will eventually give everyone of us pause to consider our mortality. Whether we believe in an afterlife or higher power, we will still move on to another place. And when that time arrives, what will we leave behind?
Obviously, parents will leave offspring. Hopefully, they will carry on family traditions and memories. There might be an estate of material possessions: a house, furnishings, and even fortunes. Valuable heirlooms, photographs and personal mementoes will be assigned to various family members in a will or trust. But, after a lifetime of living, is that how you want to be remembered?
The memories you’ve earned by your actions will be carried and relived by the loved ones you leave behind. That might be the greatest gift you’ve been able to pass on: friends and relatives recalling your warmth, smiles, and gentle nature. Conversely, those who lived a less than stellar existence, may be cursed and ignored. Either way, you will have no control over what is said in your absence. There may be a cemetery plot or memorial to visit, or an urn of ashes to be gazed upon. Perhaps you desired ashes spread in a particular place. Either way, it’s small remnant of your former life.
Charles Dickens coined a classic metaphorical phrase in his immortal, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ when Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former accounting partner, Jacob Marley.
He tells the old man, “I wear a chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard.” He was referring to the heavy burden that he was forced to wear as an eternal ghost for all the miserly and terrible acts he committed against his fellow Englishmen in nineteenth century London.
We design our lives on this planet one day, or link, at a time. We make certain choices that determine how we interact with society. We can also make a difference after our departure, if we have given any thought to the subject. Besides having proper insurance coverage, an estate plan, and appropriate instructions, we should consider what type of legacy we want to establish after we’ve left. As I’ve said, the thoughts and prayers that follow are beyond our realm. I’m discussing the opportunity to make a difference.
The wealthy have a huge advantage. They form foundations designed to propagate and perpetually funds for their institutions providing for future generations. They may contribute to universities, research grants, charitable groups, and other organizations they recognized as needy during their lifetime. Presidents erect libraries of their personal affects and interests. It’s not unlike the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt that build the pyramids and tombs to carry their worldly belonging with them into their afterlife.
Assuming you’re not a monarch or billionaire, what can you do to carry forward a legacy that benefits people after your death? It depends on what you want to accomplish. You might have meager means and hope to leave with a bare minimum and not cause a burden with burial costs. But, if you are able to raise some funds and have foresight, you could target a specific group or even an individual you deem worthy of your planning. Being known as a benefactor, such as the inventor of explosives Alfred Nobel who left us an annual legacy called the Nobel Peace Prize, is a wonderful honor. Thousands are rewarded for their outstanding achievements in the name of helping civilization. Could you hope to become a similar philanthropist? Why not, albeit on a much smaller scale?
You might offer part of your estate to a charity, school or just one promising student. It’s not a matter of ‘how much,’ but rather that you made the effort at all. A few dollars given to a worthy candidate could possibly make all the difference. Don’t forget to will your body to science as an organ and tissue donor. That will insure you become a living legacy. You have the ability to make a difference even in your passing, but you have to start your strategy today. You never know when your time is up and then it will be too late. It all depends on how you want to be remembered and whom you would like to honor.