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What do you want your legacy to be? Leaving a legacy to your children and family is an important consideration. As you make arrangements for the end of your life, you will be consulting a lawyer, writing a will, signing advance directives, planning the funeral, and more.
But what does all of it mean?
This is where you may want to consider a legacy project as a way to help tell the story and meaning of your life.
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Clarifying Your Legacy
The story of your life is not simply the things that have happened throughout your life, although you certainly can and should do that to some extent. When thinking of a legacy and the meaning of all you’ve done and lived for, the story of your life is a summary of what is most important to you.
Some people already know what is most important. For many, it is faith in God. For some, it is an achievement in business, art, sports, or literature. And for others, it is the love they shared with family and friends.
But maybe you don’t have a clear idea of what your legacy will be. Or if you do, it’s not something that can easily be put into words. This is where a legacy project can help you clarify your legacy, the meaning of your life, and what you want to pass on to those after you “as of first importance.”
What is a Legacy Project?
A legacy project is some physical thing that you create to communicate your legacy to those who come after you. This can involve your biography, important life events, the wisdom you’ve gleaned, the love and relationships you’ve enjoyed, your personal accomplishments, your faith, your hopes and dreams (both realized and not) and much more.
As you work on your legacy project, the important things in your life will come to the surface. Include them in some way! You can do it with words, images, or music. The words and images don’t have to be your own, either – this is why some people choose to do collages or compilations as a legacy project. So don’t feel the need to “reinvent the wheel” and create every element from scratch. Because you are passing on what you have received, it’s ok to quote great minds or make use of beautiful music or emphasize the most captivating images.
All in all, I think the most important thing is to talk to your loved ones as you work on your project. Whatever you choose to do will be all the more important to them if they have some part in creating it. Ask you spouse and children what they remember most about you, or how you’ve impacted their lives. Talk to them about how they have impacted you. You may just be surprised at how a legacy project can actually bring you closer together.
10 Meaningful Legacy Projects
Here are ten meaningful legacy projects for you to work on, create, and craft. As you consider each project, think about what you love to do, your skills and abilities, how you want to express yourself, what you want to say to your family, and how you want to be remembered.
Write Legacy Letters to Your Loved Ones
Get some classic stationery and hand-write letters to your loved ones. Personally, I would draft the letters first on a word processor. This way I would avoid mistakes and rambling, and have the ability to edit until I was satisfied.
A letter doesn’t have to be long, but there really is no limit either. Be sure to include the most important things. Sometimes this can simply be “I want you to know that I love you.”
Here are some elements to consider for your legacy letters:
- What do you want them to know about you?
- How do you want them to remember you?
- What is the single most important thing you would like to say?
- Is there anything that needs to be forgiven or resolved?
- What wisdom or life advice would you like to pass on?
- Are there things they never knew about that impacted your life?
- What do you love and appreciate about this person?
- What are some memories you would like to share?
- Is there anything that has been left unsaid? Say it!
Once you’ve composed your letter(s), write them out by hand onto some good quality stationery and seal each one in an envelope, addressed to each person. Store them with your important documents or perhaps in a special keepsake box. Be sure to let others know that they exist!
Create a Legacy Scroll
A legacy scroll is one of my favorite ideas for a legacy project. I got the idea from Henry Fersko-Weiss’ book, Caring for the Dying: The Doula Approach to a Meaningful Death (you can read my review here).
The idea behind a legacy scroll is a combination of the best elements of a book and a collage. Because a scroll unrolls in one continuous piece, it is more akin to life than the separate pages of a book. You can write in columns or add art, collage-style clippings and notes, photos, drawings, and more. You can turn it into a linear story, or an assemblage of related and connected themes that make up the story of your life.
For display and reading purposes, the legacy scroll can be hung on a wall or easel with one or two sections showing at a time. This allows viewers to focus on one aspect, theme, or season of your life at a time. You can create sections for life story, wisdom, encouragement, philosophy, notes of love, humor, grief, relationships, accomplishments, and more. Use your imagination!
For the actual scroll, this Etsy shop has a variety of scroll lengths with durable paper and even custom sizing.
Write a Book
If you love to write, consider writing a book as your legacy project. A legacy book doesn’t have to be lengthy or have the perfect outline in order to be meaningful. It can be a collection of short stories, essays, life lessons, or even recipes.
Here are a few ideas:
Write out your biography, or tell a series of important stories that teach life lessons (these can be fictional or true stories, both can be powerful).
Communicate the most important things in the form of an allegory or a fictional story. It may not become as famous as Pilgrim’s Progress or The Chronicles of Narnia, or Pride & Prejudice, but your family will still appreciate the wisdom and effort put forward in creating something meaningful for them.
Use humor liberally. My friend Melyssa blogs about writing, homeschooling, and general life observations by way of snarky stories and tongue-in-cheek “how to” guides for **real** people. Read this story about Gramma’s Fitted Sheets and I’m sure you’ll recognize stories from your own life worthy of passing on to your children in humorous form.
Tell your life story through important moments. Even if your family has heard the story of how you and your spouse met, tell it again. They’ll treasure it all the more for its familiarity, plus it will be something of yours that they can pass on to their own children and grandchildren.
Don’t limit your writing to your own experience. Include family history, including the stories of your parents’ and grandparents’ lives. Include what you know about your genealogy and family tree.
Fill in the blank spaces with your favorite quotes, poems, and song lyrics. Repeat your favorite phrases and groan-worthy “dad jokes,. Include life tips (“learn how to change your car’s oil for yourself”), helpful proverbs, comforting Scripture verses, and advice for healthy, wholesome living. Tell your family the most important things. Say “I love you.”
Write a Journal
As you near the end of your life, your thoughts can either become more focused as you realize that your time is short, or it can become more difficult to engage due to pain, illness, “brain fog,” or lack of motivation. In either case, maintaining a journal will help you keep disciplined and allow you to express your thoughts and feelings for posterity.
The advantage of a journal is that there does not need to be any overarching form or goal. You are simply recording how you feel physically and mentally, what happens each day, and what you are thinking about. As you write (or dictate, if necessary) each day, the things you want to say to your loved ones will slowly begin to surface.
Make a Legacy Quilt
Not everyone has the gift of words. Books, journals, scrolls – those legacy projects can be intimidating for some. But maybe you love to work with your hands. It doesn’t matter if you’ve quilted all your life or always wanted to learn but never did – it’s not to late to make a final, beautiful quilt.
Ask your family members to donate material. It can be lovely, fun, or expressive patterns they purchase that represent some emotion or connection. Or they can contribute an old basketball jersey, a first baby blanket, a tourist t-shirt from your visit to the Bahamas, or commemorative tee from the 5k run you ran together.
Stitch it all together into a tapestry that represents your lives. It will be a comforting legacy that goes beyond mere words.
Create a Legacy Collage
Go through old boxes of photos and keepsakes. Cut out images from magazines that remind you of special events or favorite hobbies. No doubt you have collected a fair amount of clippings, photos, drawings, and quotes over years. Put them all together and create new materials to add, like printouts of funny family sayings or meaningful Bible verses.
You can do this all yourself or invite family members to contribute. You just may be surprised to discover some of the things they have kept and saved over the years!
Personalize a Bird Feeder
This is just one example of many items you can pass on to those you leave behind, but it’s a good one. The idea behind this legacy project is to create or personalize something meaningful that you can give to your loved ones.
If you’re the crafty sort, you might consider making your own legacy gift – that’s the gist of the next idea. But for those of us who aren’t incredibly skilled in that way, or if you are no longer able to make the things you once could, it might work best to get something personalized for you.
This could be a bird feeder, a photo frame or album, a watch, a necklace, a plaque, a pocket knife, a painting, or any number of creative gifts that can be customized in some way. Take what you want to say to each person and compact it into a short message, quote, or a simple “I love you.”
The bird feeder is ideal for this because it’s not something that they will feel obligated to display in their home or hold on to forever. It goes outdoors, so it is easy to tuck it away somewhere or put it on full display right off the front porch or outside the kitchen window.
Plus, it has a “back to nature” sensibility expressive of life. Made in the USA from real aromatic cedar wood, the feeder will attract birds and encourage thoughts of wings taking flight. The front and back panels are spacious and can be engraved with anything you like. Many people personalize it with a meaningful poem or a personal message.
Again, a bird feeder isn’t the only gift idea like this, but it’s a unique and meaningful one. Consider giving a gift as part of your legacy.
Build a Legacy Box
For those of you who are skilled with your hands, create something physical to pass on to those closest to you. A keepsake box is perfect for this, and will mean so much coming from you. You can fill it with notes and photos and keepsakes, or write a simple message and allow them to fill it with their own treasures.
This is one of our favorite keepsake boxes, made from solid walnut wood and includes a custom engraved name plate. Use it as a model to copy or to order if you would prefer to get a legacy box that is professionally made.
With smartphones, it’s easy to make an audio recording. Simply download an app and start talking. Some people find this much easier to do than to write, and your family will have the added benefit of hearing your words in your own voice.
Recording a legacy video has never been easier. Even if you don’t have a smartphone, you can easily borrow one from a family member. I would suggest writing out at least an outline of what you would like to say, and perhaps practice your delivery before doing the actual recording.
Think about what you want to say and consider how deep and how long you want to go. You might want to do a single video to keep it simple, or you may prefer to make a video for each person who is special to you.
Also, this is easy enough to do yourself but you can think about having a professional videographer record and edit your legacy video. This adds a special touch and can keep it from being over long and unfocused. On the flip side, sometimes it is better to give your family the “rough and uncut” version, as it shows the “real” you.
Your loved ones will appreciate seeing your face and hearing your voice as you tell them you love them, impart wisdom, crack jokes, and encourage them as they face the years ahead of them. A video recording is a great way to leave a meaningful legacy to your children, spouse, and family to treasure after you are gone.