My (lack of) legacy

Thursday, September 7, 2017 Permalink

I’ve been thinking about the future of late. Primarily because my overseas bestie asked me if I thought I was going to stay where I am after my mum (who lives in a nearby town) has gone (and yes, god forbid); and because my aforementioned mother watched something on TV about Australian women not having enough superannuation and has decided I will have to live in my car in years to come.

I actually have some thoughts about the ‘long term’ but they’re for another time because today I wanted to talk about my legacy. Or perhaps… my fears about my lack thereof. 

I partially blame Kelly Exeter and Brooke McAlary… as the concept of one’s ‘legacy’ is something they’ve talked about in their Let It Be podcast a few times.

It’s something that has also (increasingly) hit home over the past decade.

The great use of life is to spend it on something that will outlast it. —William James

I was in my early 40s before I accepted I might not meet the man of my dreams and have the life I’d expected: kids, white picket fence. A dog. Okay, no dog, cos too much work. So I tried to get pregnant myself. Birds and bees aside.

A few years later I called it quits. And for the first time I was faced with the realisation that the life I was living was going to be my forever life. Going to work. Working. Coming home. Going to bed. Getting up. Going to work. Rinse repeat. I was 43 or 44 and tried to imagine another 20yrs of long work days, commuting and perhaps an occasional outing with friends on a weekend (when I wasn’t in recovery-from-work mode).

Stars and planets aligned – well, my father passed away which was just as confronting as a life without my ‘own’ family, so when the redundancy option arose, I took it and seachanged. (And yes, I’m allowed to use it as a verb.)

That’s all very boring background information and if I was reviewing this post I’d say it was WAAAAY too much backstory. But – I promise – I’m getting to my point.

legacy

Last year my mum had termites in her house and had to completely clear out a room. It led to a bit decluttering of sorts. And a realisation for her, about how much she’d accumulated in the 50+years of living there. Of course the clean-up required her to go through photographs and documents. Treasured books and belongings.

She put some things aside for my brother and my niece and asked me if I wanted this or that. I’d moved myself several times so culled stuff on several occasions. As mum proffered old photographs, my early school books and even my birth records I realised there was no point in me taking them. I didn’t suddenly ‘want’ them after 40-odd years and it occurred to me I had no one to give them to (no one who’d would want them after I’d gone).

I am reminded of this when people talk about their legacy. Unless they’ve got buildings or libraries named after them, they’ll usually refer to their children. Their grandchildren and so forth.

In my case the buck…. or the DNA, ends with me.

It’s been both freeing and depressing. This realisation. The fact that no one will want / need my stuff is weird. Sad. But at the same time, it means I don’t have to hold on to things that perhaps no longer have meaning for ME.

I can live a more disposable life than most people. I can – if I could – live in the moment.

Of course I realise one’s legacy isn’t just about one’s DNA or loved ones. For many it’s about being remembered. About making a difference. In some way.

That is your legacy on this Earth when you leave this Earth: how many hearts you touched.—Patti Davis

I’m the sort of person who looks at old gravestones and is saddened they’re all that are left of those who’ve walked before us. Will someone, one day, stumble across the headstone of Deborah Cook, shrug and walk on?

And I realise this is (also, again) such a #firstworldproblem… pondering my legacy and the footprint I leave for future generations or lives.

If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. —Benjamin Franklin

Do you ever ponder your ‘legacy’? How would you define it? Am I overthinking as usual?

the-lovin-life-linky The Lovin’ Life team includes:

36 Comments
  • @Kanga_Rue
    September 7, 2017

    You are loved xoxo

    • Debbish
      September 7, 2017

      Ha, yes I know that but I guess I sometimes think about that deeper ‘something’ I’m leaving behind.

  • Jo
    September 7, 2017

    Yeah, I guess it is something I’ve been pondering a bit…I think you do as you get older. I’m pondering retirement more – or semi retirement, I guess – given that I hope to always be writing – and wondering what that looks like. I also had that moment when I was at Mum & Dads the other week & wondering just what the hell we’ll do with all the stuff they’ve accumulated & kept over the years.

    • Debbish
      September 7, 2017

      Yes, I’d initially written about the future stuff here too but it got too long. (I think I mentioned – to you – the conversation I had with my friend in NZ…) So more on that another time I guess. Plus things are a bit up in the air at work at the moment for a range of reasons….

      My mum and dad lost their parents a LOOOOONG time ago (only one of my grandparents lived past 70) so we’d dealt with emptying houses and deciding who gets what. Fortunately (or unfortunately) neither set of grandparents had much / any money for family to squabble over but there were a few debates about various possessions. We’ve joked in my house about that ever since. My parents (mum’s now) and my tastes are VERY different so she knows there’s little ‘stuff’ I’d want to keep. And it wasn’t until she was culling photographs and the like that I realised I had no purpose for them either.

  • Sydney Shop Girl
    September 7, 2017

    Thought provoking post, Deb. Life so far from me has also deviated from the expectation. Somewhat for the better and somewhat not. The bad stuff, though, has changed me in a positive way. I guess life keeps us guessing right until the end.

    SSG xxx

    • Debbish
      September 7, 2017

      Ah yes…. perhaps I will yet write that Pulitzer / Man Booker prize winning novel. Or something that exists beyond my lifetime….

  • writeofthemiddle
    September 7, 2017

    I ponder my legacy too. Much more so now I’m getting older. I often wonder – what will they say about me at my funeral? I’ve been to a few funerals over recent years and all good people who have done lots of charitable work and good things. It makes me feel I haven’t done enough … for others, or achievements, or stuff! I do have children to leave things to but my thoughts seem to linger over my legacy as far as what can be said about me at my funeral and what I am remembered for. #TeamLovinLife

    • Debbish
      September 7, 2017

      I’m actually reading Brooke McAlary’s book ‘Slow’ at the moment and that who eulogy thing is something she talks about (and has talked about in the Let It Be podcast).

      My mum’s filled in a granddaughter book for my niece and a daughter one for me with anecdotes about her life. Things she regrets / doesn’t etc… I’ve told her I want her to record some of these stories for her eulogy cos we’ll be too upset to read / say anything and I love the idea of her talking about her life herself. Hopefully she’ll be able to add to it for a decade or two yet but I should get her started on it….

  • Vanessa
    September 7, 2017

    I’ve never really given it a thought. In some ways I’m not sure if it’s something we could even plan for. I think you just have to do your best and that will take care of a legacy. Unless you want a building named after you, then there’s probably a lot of work involved.

    • Debbish
      September 7, 2017

      I suspect it’s probably something you don’t consider until you get older. Other than the ‘family and kids’ thing (which involved a biological clock) I definitely didn’t consider any of this until my mid 40s or so.

  • Lydia C. Lee
    September 7, 2017

    I know most people think of their family line but in reality, it’s not really carrying on anything. Can you say what your great, great, great grandmother did? Probably not. What about your mother’s aunt’s cousin? Nope…and so on. So I think it’s a delusion we carry to give ourselves meaning. I read Julian Barnes ‘Life on Levels’ and he talks about how after his wife died he wanted to talk about her with people but it made friends uncomfortable and he started to just talk to her. I think that gives an insight to how fleeting we are (yes, I’m an existentialist in case you didn’t realise). Are we meant to leave a legacy? Says who? If you can do something great to help others, you’ve probably done more than your share on this earth. If you can make others life easier, ditto. I don’t think I beleive much in legacy, but I do beleive in purpose. Good post by the way. It’s honest and thought provoking.

    • Debbish
      September 7, 2017

      Lydia, I heap of quotes I found were actually about our legacy focusing on caring for the planet and future generations etc… than about something self-centred or about us as individuals.

      I suspect my pondering has been very specific and all about me me me! And I think it’s probably as much about the practical and physical as it is about the existential / metaphysical… if that makes sense?

  • sizzlesue15
    September 7, 2017

    Having just turned 60 Deb and knowing that my parents and brother didn’t live beyond 66 I have been thinking about my legacy lately. Hopefully I will have many years ahead but really perhaps leaving a legacy is over-rated. Those that love you be it family or friends will remember and continue to love you and that to me is all you need. Being a good human being is more important than having a formal legacy. Enjoyed your post xx

    • Debbish
      September 7, 2017

      Oh Sue – I hope you have decades and decades ahead of you. My mum’s parents died in their 60s as well and she’s already in her early 70s so that bodes well for her. Plus she lives a very different life to the lives they lived.

  • Ingrid Ingrid
    September 7, 2017

    I love my photos and the baby record books I’ve kept for all three of my children but I don’t know that they will necessarily appreciate or want these things when I pass away.

    I’m glad I won’t be here to see what they do with all my photo albums when I’m gone. It would break my heart to see them all trashed but then again if they don’t bring you happiness and you don’t have any need for them why would you keep them?

    i hope I won’t be leaving them a burden of my kids knowing how special these things were to me and feeling a sense of obligation not to throw them out.

    Ingrid
    http://www.fabulousandfunlife.blogspot.com.au

    • Debbish
      September 7, 2017

      My mum and I talked a bit about this when she was clearing her documents and photos. I’ve got pictures that are special to me but am not one to have them on display (unlike my folks). I tend to keep memories within I guess. And though I did take some of my childhood stuff I think we ditched a lot of it as there was no point in keeping it. Thankfully though my mum had already been through her own stuff and had the information she needed when she made her ‘grandmother’ book for my niece and her ‘mother’ book for me.

  • leannelc
    September 7, 2017

    The thing with kids and legacies is that it sets up unreal expectations. I always wondered about people getting older and not having adult kids for support etc. Now I look at my kids (28 & 31) who live completely autonymously to us and we barely hear from them. They aren’t interested in heirlooms or history – we saved all their school reports and important artwork etc – gave it to them a year or so ago – only to find out that they’d both binned it all. I’m planning on the fact that we will have to be responsible for ourselves and not depend on them at all or have much of an ongoing legacy in their lives – grandchildren are even more distant (judging from how little interaction our parents have with their grown grandchildren). So being childless isn’t that different from being in an empty nest – sorry for the long comment – I’ll stop now!

    • Debbish
      September 7, 2017

      True Leanne. My parents were the main carers for my dad’s aunt and uncle (who had kids who rarely visited) and I know my mum and another friend of hers did a lot for an older woman in their church – picking up the slack for her son. I tend to assume I’ll be responsible for myself long term (as I have been to date I guess).

  • Denyse Whelan
    September 7, 2017

    OK. Here’s what you need to know. You make a difference in my life. Always. I read yours and Woogsworld posts first. I actually love a good back story. Write away!! I hear you on what you are saying, though as I move to slightly more serious mode. I see us all leaving legacies every.single.day. Look at Pickle for instance! I know I have kids and grandkids but in terms of what they will be left with when I am gone it is much less about things and more about memories and experiences. You see you already have those with the people you interact with. I think you might be seeing a legacy in a somewhat limited way. Like I said, you make my day when I get to read a Deb post and you are SO supportive of me that I am blessed to count you as a ‘never met but will one day’ friend. D xx

    • Debbish
      September 8, 2017

      Oh Denyse, that’s so sweet (*sob*).

      It does occur to me that some of the ‘wanky’ quotes about legacies that I ignored – very much about kindness and consideration – are very true.

      I wondered later too, if it’s an arrogant thing…. wanting to be remembered? Or expecting to be ‘appreciated’ or even acknowledged after we’ve gone. It’s kind of the way the world works doesn’t it? One generation passes on and the next moves into their place. I must admit it sometimes saddens me that there are those (Jane Austen or Agatha Christie come to mind) whose legacy isn’t recognised until long after they’re gone. If only they knew how appreciated they would be years, decades, even a century or two after their deaths?!

  • Michelle W (@pinkypoinker)
    September 7, 2017

    Deb, I have five kids and I can assure you that none of them are interested in anything to do with me. Maybe when they’re in their fifties… but I doubt it. Kids aren’t the answer. The difference you make in a positive way to other people’s lives is ALL that matters. You don’t have to be related by blood. Look at that beautiful comment above!

    • Debbish
      September 8, 2017

      Ah yes it is lovely!

      I remember noticing that my father became interested in family history stuff after his father had passed away and he was the last generation of his family and wondered if that’s something that hits home as you get older and life becomes more finite.

  • Jenni@ Unclutter Your Universse
    September 7, 2017

    The legacy I would love to leave those closest to me are wonderful memories, rather than belongings, that they are probably not interested in keeping anyway.

    • Debbish
      September 8, 2017

      True. My mum and I joke about our different tastes and the fact there’s really not much of hers I’d like to inherit. I commented on an old heavy punch jug she has (which we’ve only ever really used as a vase when she’s gotten a lot of flowers – when sick or after my dad’s passing) and days later there it was for me. It was a bit confronting really.

      I feel I should clarify the comment about not ‘wanting’ her stuff. For me it’s not really about things either. I kinda know what’s precious to her and what isn’t. She’s not at all materialistic. And – for example – recently she’s been cleaning out some of my dad’s stuff. He worked in local government for 30+years and when he retired they gave him a heap of stuff – silver goblets etc… Mum was polishing up the goblets and asking if I (or my brother) would want them. I said my biggest memory of dad was how much he hated work. It was always a necessary evil to him. He liked some of his colleagues and was a hard and dedicated worker but his life was all about family and his commitment to us. “No one enjoys their jobs,” he used to say to me. I know now it isn’t necessarily true (though sometimes it feels like it). Anyway… I said to mum that the goblets didn’t interest me as they didn’t really feel representative of who dad was (to me).

  • Lisa Ireland
    September 7, 2017

    Deb, I haven’t read through all the comments yet (supposed to be working so here I am on the internet…) Anyway, I’m not sure if anyone else has said this, but you are a writer. Your words touch people. They are your legacy. They will outlast you. L x (PS I know you have thought about writing a book so maybe these thoughts of leaving a legacy are another good reason for giving that a go.)

    • Debbish
      September 8, 2017

      Thanks Lisa and I do think I want to write…. something. As much because it’s such a stumbling block for me as anything else! I have that constant sense of failure because I’m not pursuing the thing I say I want to!

  • Emma
    September 8, 2017

    Whilst I have a daughter I have to say I don’t worry too much about a legacy. I think it’s easy to but also know that memory will be gone in a generation as unless she is a teen mom. I worry more about how I don’t live in the moment and that when I’m old, grey, and most likely living in a home I will have regrets. I’m trying hard to not be like that and am hoping to grow old having lived a life I loved but it’s hard with work and not wanting to look like an old woman behaving disgracefully (when is too old to dance on tables?)

    • Debbish
      September 8, 2017

      Emma, my comment to Lisa below (above?) probably reflects my fear of regrets. The fact I want to write something other than my blogs but am yet to do so. It’s already a regret or sense of guilt or unfulfilment so I can only assume that will simmer and fester unless I feel more satisfied with my life.

  • Janet Camilleri (@middleagedmama1)
    September 8, 2017

    I’ve thought about it some, and I hope that my legacy is that I have left the world a slightly better place from being in it. For example, I have a page on my blog about my experience in the Sandgate Children’s Home and I know that it has helped a lot of people, simply because it is one of the only places where people can read and talk about it.

    • Debbish
      September 9, 2017

      Oh that’s very true Janet – sharing those experiences (the good and the bad) is important and often you’d have no idea of the impact you’ve been able to have on others….

  • Kate
    September 9, 2017

    It’s 1.44 am Friday night. I’ve just finished reading The Lone Child. I’ve come straight to your site to find my next book. I always like to read your posts about life as well as your reviews. I turned 60 this year and lead quite an isolated lonely life since I lost my sister who I was very close to and chatted to every day. Your natural, warmhearted, open, connecting, relatable writing style is a joy to read and I appreciate your thoughts and words.

    • Debbish
      September 9, 2017

      Oh Kate, that’s just lovely. When I had my diet blog (Diet Schmiet) I had a lot of positive feedback as I’d tend to be really blunt and honest about things and others could often relate. I’d sometimes feel a bit self-conscious talking about something (being envious of others, my binge-eating, obsessive thinking or whatever) but think people know when you’re writing out of frustration rather than to seek attention and I often had comments on how others could very much relate to what I was writing.

      I don’t do as many personal posts any more. I did actually stop for a while there but missed them…. After all, how will I know what I’m thinking unless I write about it?!

      PS. I’m sorry about the loss of your sister by the way. I’m now a bit like that with my mum. We chat daily and she’s my go-to person with anything and everything. I can’t even imagine what it will be like when she’s no longer around. xx

  • Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit
    September 11, 2017

    I’m big into legacy creation. My books are my legacy. I hope. But you do have a legacy Deb! This space right here is your legacy. Every comment you’ve left on the interwebs encouraging others and high fiving people. Every thought you’ve written down and every book you’ve reviewed helping authors achieve their dreams. That right there is legacy creating stuff. I know that having you in my world has enriched my life … and I’m just one of your fans … and that right there is legacy worthy.
    #teamlovinlife

    • Debbish
      September 11, 2017

      Awww… thanks Leanne. I just had the reminder in my news feed the other day that PB Event was on in Sept last year and it was the first time we met in person. (And I met a group of not-young bloggers who reminded me that being mature-aged, or even middle-aged, is not a bad thing!)

  • Jan Wild
    September 12, 2017

    What about the legacy which results from your book reviews? Or your relationship with your nephew? Legacies don’t always need to be world famous, in fact they rarely are.

    • Debbish
      September 13, 2017

      Ah yes, I have my niece (now 21) and my 6yr old godson Jan, so very lucky I’ve got some next generationers in my life.

I'd love to hear your thoughts