When I was 24, I moved to New York City with no plan. I found an apartment –– miraculously –– and lined up job interviews. Within weeks, I was employed as a writer for an online publication. Exactly what I wanted.
Soon after, I was invited on a date. It was to a small event his company was putting on. There, we listened to music, had a couple drinks, and in the middle of the night, someone passed around a bunch of transparencies.
Yes, the kind you remember from 6th grade.
We were all asked to write down on that transparency what our deepest desire was. Our ultimate goal. The number one thing we want to accomplish in this life. And we all obliged. We were a bit tipsy, hanging out in a museum with free food and music, and good company.
An hour later, as my date and I were leaving, we were ushered through a small room where there was a single chair and a transparency projector. Individually, we were asked our names, and then to sit in front of the projector –– alone.
I went first. Soon, a hand came out from behind the curtain and put my transparency on the projector –– and SNAP. A picture was taken.
I thought nothing of it until the next day when everyone’s individual picture was emailed out to them. On mine, there was a picture of a young, happy, maybe a bit too carefree me –– with words of my deepest desire sloppily written on a machine that would soon be a relic of history:
“To create something that outlives myself.”
On Our Desire to Leave a Legacy
BOY, if that night I didn’t reach down into my depths and say something true to my future self! I think about this picture and that night a lot. I think that desire is one that is incredibly common among us.
For me, it’s my grandfather who serves as the inspiration behind that idea. He started a business in the late 1950s. Today, it is a third generation business that gave his three girls and all of their children more opportunities than he ever had. Talk about leaving something behind that outlives you!
But building a business isn’t the only way to do that. You can write books, as Ashley’s grandfather did. You can paint, you can teach, you can make movies and videos.
In fact, arguably today it is easier than ever to create something that outlives yourself. Just make a Facebook page for goodness sake.
But there is something so magical about this deep desire, one so inherent for humans, that transcends individuals. This desire is one that each and every one of us has for ourselves, but also for those we love.
Unfortunately, in the current structure and societal treatment of those who are grieving, we don’t do enough to recognize this incredibly important aspect of humanity. We want our loved ones to be remembered, for their lives to have value and meaning, ideally one we can interact with and share with others.
One way to do this is by telling stories about your loved one. Or, if you are friends with someone who is grieving, telling them stories about their loved one –– ideally ones they have forgotten or didn’t know. It is such an incredible feeling to hear a new detail about a person you love after they have passed. It teaches you that you can still learn about them, and be affected by them, and inspired by them –– even if they are no longer physically here.
Another way to do this, of course, is through legacy projects.
What are legacy projects?
Legacy projects are projects or activities you do to honor the life of your loved one. They are ways to interact with the things they loved physically, and to share them with the world.
- You can do as Liz Pires has done and work to change laws that have tangible impacts on so many.
- You can do as my friend Elise does and plant sunflowers, her sister’s favorite flower, in all of her sister’s favorite places.
Whatever you do, it should be personal and unique. It should hold incredible meaning for you, and serve as a way to continue your bond with your loved one. 6 Ideas for Legacy Projects for Loved OnesOne of the hardest parts of coming up with a legacy project is coming up with ideas.
- You can feel so defeated in grief.
- You can feel so isolated, and honestly, just plain tired.
- That’s ok!
I’ve rounded up a few of Eterneva customers’ legacy projects as examples for you. Learn from them, steal the ideas for yourself, or –– heck –– even donate to the causes!
We are all in this together. Grief is one of the few things every single one of us will experience. It ties us together. It binds us to the living, and to the dead. It is part of our human experience, our struggle, and our eternal beauty.
Legacy projects honor our relationships, and build new ones in the process.
1. All the Susan G Komen 3-day, 60-mile walks.
Stephen Youngerman spent so much of his year in 2019 walking in all of the Susan G Komen 3-Day, 60-Mile Walks. And his wife, Karen, was able to come along in the form of two diamonds. In 2020, he plans to do the same –– this time raising more than $20,000 for the Susan G Komen foundation that helps fund research into breast cancer prevention and awareness.
This is such a fantastic way to raise money, get involved in the community, and do everything you can to honor a person who fought the good fight.
2. Repurpose items as gifts for friends and family.
Jim wasn’t sure what to do with all of Ron’s shirts after his passing, until he came up with a brilliant idea: use them to sew pillows for all of their friends and family! It took a ton of time, but every pillow was ready for Christmas, and gave Jim processing time as he transformed the items of his husband into keepsakes for everyone who loves him.
3. Host a contest.
Bryce Fleming is a shining example of a father who wants to give his daughter the world. After Calista’s sudden passing, Bryce started a photograpgraphy contest in her honor. It was a passion she loved, one he didn’t exactly understand, but a artform now that he reveres as a gift from his daughter to the world.
Each one of us deserves at least a chance at leaving some legacy to mark our time here on Earth. Calista never really had any opportunity to leave her mark. She just did not have enough time. This contest, born out of her love of commercial product photography, is a pale attempt at giving my daughter her few moments in history.
"Commercial product photography seems like a strange passion, even to me, her father. On the same token, if you met my little girl you would completely understand: she was quite a dominant, outspoken character and she liked to have complete control of every part of her life, including her creativity. Product photography gives the artist complete freedom and control of nearly every aspect of the finished image: from staging through capture to final post-production editing the photographer can adjust every aspect of the process to optimize the final result. That was very appealing to my Calista.”
The contest is open to high school students, and awards winners with up to 6,000 dollars in photography gear each year. You can learn more about the contest here: http://www.findingcalista.com.
4. Launch a scholarship.
Jacob Meek was one of those rare people that others find it so hard to fathom. He had regular epiliptic seizures, yet let not that, nor anything else, stop him in his pursuit for life. He started a pressure washing business at age 17. Graduated high school and began pursuing a degree in entrepreneurship. He always had a smile on his face, loved his family, and his pets (who were like family), spending time outdoors, and was rarely to be found sitting still.
His positive attitudes and ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges and odds made him a mainstay in his community. In his absence, this community launched the Jacob Matthew Meek ‘17 Memorial Endowed Scholarship.
“First, students who confront health issues will be prioritized. Jacob’s story was one of constantly seeking to overcome physical challenges. Since the Meek family witnessed the way that CHS [his highschool] compassionately supported Jacob, they are confident that another student in a similar situation could succeed in the same conditions.
Second, the family hopes that support from the endowed scholarship will be applied to students with tenacity and sheer determination to prosper, key components in Jacob’s life philosophy.
Joffre [Jacob’s brother], like many alumni, can testify to the way CHS prepares its students:
'Once you get into a professional setting after leaving CHS, you find that your experience at CHS prepared you to mature into a go-getter interested in working and pursuing a career.'
This ‘go-getter’ spirit is a value that fit Jacob perfectly. Through his schoolwork, business, and personal pursuits, Jacob embodied that same kind of motivation and grit. Awarding tuition assistance from the endowed scholarship to a student who possesses these traits would combine Jacob’s philosophy with a main aspect of Catholic High School’s mission to 'educate students not only academically but personally as well.'
This is, to some extent, the ultimate goal of all endowed scholarships at CHS: to provide special opportunities for students who would otherwise have no avenue for pursuing these goals. Of course, scholarships like The Jacob Matthew Meek ’17 Memorial Endowed Scholarship are also a testament to the positive impact of CHS. The Meek family is confident that Catholic High School was successful with its mission through Jacob."
The scholarship in his name, then, allows Jacob to live on by contributing to the future successes of others.
5. Establish a trail.
Timothy Sullivan and his friends made a frisbee golf course at their local community college back in the 90s. They spent hundreds of man-hours making it, and plenty more playing on it. Over the years, the course was trashed, went unused, became overgrown, and eventually was closed by the school.
After Timothy passed, one of his friends had a brilliant idea...and worked all summer to get permission to turn what once was their cherished frisbee golf course into something brand new: the Timothy Sullivan Trail.
For his wife, children, and friends, it is now a spot they come to often.
“We had a plaque made and it’s such an honor for me and the kids. Here we are with Tim’s best friend and his friend who did all the legwork to get it approved and funded!”
6. Continue their fight.
Ben “Big Cat” Cushing was an inspiration to all, and refused to take his rare cancer diagnosis sitting down. He quickly started a fund to raise money for research into the disease.
“Mine is such a rare and aggressive form of cancer that only 50 people nationwide have been diagnosed and the only way we can truly beat it is through research. We are lucky here in the Seattle area to have a fabulous doctor at the UW/Seattle Cancer Care Alliance who treats this type of lymphoma and is in charge of my treatment plan. Dr. Shustov and team are pursuing new hypotheses and treatments for T-cell lymphoma. By donating to my CushItToTheLimit research fund, you can help accelerate the treatment and ultimate cure for this aggressive disease.”
Ben was able to raise more than $140,000 for the cause before his death. The last thing Ben told his doctor was, “I know I’m not going to survive, but find a cure.”
“You don’t come across people with the mental and physical strength and the character he showed,” says Former WSU quarterback Jason Gesser. “The way he approached the whole thing, it affected me and will affect me for my whole life.”
You can continue to donate to the cause to increase awareness of and research toward prevention and cure of the rare cancer.
Emily Dickinson once wrote in a poem:
Each that we lose takes part of us;
A crescent still abides,
Which like the moon,
some turbid night,
Is summoned by the tides.
This so perfectly captures grief, at least as I have experienced it. The stages are not applicable. Instead, grief comes in waves and tides, some stronger than others. What helps for the long-term is something that binds us beyond this experience of time.
For me and my grandmother, it is the scarves she loved, and wore so often when she lost all of her beautiful red hair to chemo in her final years. I still remember her being so happy when it started growing back in –– still red! Legacy projects and other permanent items are this.
They are ways to connect in our present moments with those who made us who we are, who influenced us beyond understanding, who we may not be able to physically touch right now, but who never really leave our minds.