Examine One’s Own Order to Life

I am not a big believer in legacy because how you are remembered is generally more about the person remembering than the person being remembered. But I am a huge fan of sharing what has been important in our lives with our families. In Rabbi Steven Leder’s book, For You When I Am Gone, he shares a step-by-step process of writing an ethical will. Ethical wills share your values rather than your valuables.

One of the questions he asks is “What will your epitaph say? A headstone has room for fifteen characters per line and four lines total.” We can’t condense our lives entire lives into sixty characters, but what are words that you would want to describe yourself?

Successful? This is the quintessential legacy word. Successful in what way? To whom? I suspect that when we use this term, we view it in context of a career and the heights achieved. While successful is often stated in longer obituaries, I don’t know that I have often seen it take up sixteen percent of the characters on a gravestone.

Epitaphs often use words like loving or caring. They can trigger a memory or an action. Sixty characters in an average life of over eighty years is a guide that can shape our remaining days.

Leder points out that by sharing our regrets, we can help our loved ones avoid their own. “What do you wish you had done, why, and what will doing those things hopefully bring to your loved ones?”, he asks. Regrets are useful to the extent we learn or teach from them rather than wallow in them. We don’t know if we would have been happier as a musician than a surgeon, but we do know how moments lost may have effected our lives.

Regrets are useful when you discuss not only what was missed but why you missed it. You may regret that you did not have regular family meals because you could have learned more about everyone’s days and would not have given the impression that work was more important than family. Or you regret that you did not take even inexpensive family vacations to create memories that will last when you are gone because you were too conservative about money or too concerned about work.

Rather than worry about a legacy, share your past as an example of how to examine one’s own in order to live a fuller and happier life.

Related: How To Decide Whether To Make a Big Purchase in Retirement