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Leave Them with Love

A recent discussion with Dr. Kimberly Harms on how to leave a legacy of love reminded me of how often we think of legacy in terms of our work and our reputation, and the things that we leave to others. If you have material things, it is wise to make sure that you have written instructions on how those things are to be disbursed. I have seen a poor family fight over a single gold charm. And we have probably all read about the court battles that occur within families where large sums of money and expensive properties are at stake. The result, whether it came from an argument over a gold charm or a huge estate, is the same: broken relationships, anger, and hard feelings. In some families, even a written will might not prevent these struggles, but in other cases practical instructions combined with a legacy of love will go a long way toward leaving your loved ones with tools to help them navigate life when you are gone. A legacy of love can be whatever you create. Today, for your consideration, I suggest at least these two elements: Prepare Them for Your Death; and Provide Emotional Life Insurance.

Prepare Them for Your Death

As my parents entered their 70s, they began to talk to me about their death. They had retired in another state, and I visited them two or three times per year. On each of these visits, they would sit me down and discuss what to do when they died. Initially, I hated these discussions. I sat quietly, with tears streaming down my face, just waiting for them to stop talking. They kept at it, and eventually I was able to listen, and then to participate, and then to remember what they had told me, what they wanted, and why these discussions were important. With my mother-in-law, there was no conversation, other than an acknowledgment that her important papers were in her desk. But in those papers we would find that she had organized and paid for all of her funeral arrangements. When my husband learned that his cancer was terminal, he made his wishes clear to me. Each of these approaches differed in terms of the level of instruction and the depth of discussion. And in each instance, the amount of preparation was perfect for all participants. In each case, I knew what to do, how to do it, and who to involve. It will be hard enough for your loved ones to lose you, don’t leave them guessing about how to honor and memorialize you.

What can you do to acknowledge your own death in a way that allows you and your loved ones to accept your ultimate impermanence?

Provide Emotional Life Insurance

We know the value of providing life insurance to provide help with financial issues. To leave behind some type of financial cushion when we die. But what about helping with the emotional fallout? This is what Dr. Harms was recommending to me. This is the support that helps to carry our friends and family after the formal services. You can accomplish this in many ways. The common theme is that you are leaving behind reassurances of love and support. Memories that may bring tears, but those are tears of joy. For example, two years before he died, out of the blue (or so it felt), my father told me that he loved me, that he was in no way disappointed in me and that he was proud of me. In her last years without my father, my mother had similar discussions with me, and we were able to work through some of the challenges we had faced in our relationship. You may not be able to have these types of conversations. But you can still provide emotional life insurance.

A powerful form of support is a loving letter. Something that your loved one can keep and revisit on happy days and on sad days. It can be as long or as short as you wish, anything from, “Remember, I am always proud of you,” to more. You might include special memories or stories. Reminders of your bond. Another option is to create a recording. Most smartphones have an option to create recordings, and there are other free and easy-to-use options available online. I know that for several years I kept an old tape recorded because in it I found a recording in my father’s voice. All it said was: “Testing 123, testing 123.” But it was his voice. One of my uncles created a book of family history. It covered our great-grandparents, our grandparents, his generation, and our generation. This is helpful because when your elders are gone, sometimes your family history goes with them.

What can you do to leave behind words of love and reassurance? How can you help keep your family history alive?

You are likely to leave behind unfinished business, possibly in the form of difficult or broken relationships. Forgiveness is important to you and to others. Sometimes people are not ready to forgive you, or to accept your forgiveness. Forgive yourself and offer forgiveness anyway. This will free your heart, allowing you to have a more peaceful death. And perhaps, sometime later, when you are gone, it will help the other party. 

In difficult cases, write a letter or make a recording anyway. And leave it with your other legacy items. You do not have to say, “I forgive you for what you did.” You do not have to mention the source of your misunderstanding of shared grievance. Just write or record some kind words. Some sincere wishes for that other party to be well and happy. The history of your troubled relationship is not necessary, your words of kindness carry a type of reconciliation. 

I draw upon the following quote frequently, I think you’ll see why:

Some do not understand.
that we must die,
But those who do realize this.
settle their quarrels. —
Dhp 6

We can not only settle our quarrels but prepare our loved ones by leaving behind a legacy of love.

See more

Margaret Meloni: Death Dhamma
The Death Dhamma Podcast (Margaret Meloni)

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