End of Life Issues: Leaving a Legacy


What do you want your legacy to be?

Some define their legacy by wealth, gifts and property they have acquired in life, but others might define their legacy as the memory they leave behind.

Early in my career, I was given a gift to work with a young man diagnosed with cancer. When first working with my client, he went into remission and was doing well. I did not see him for a year or two, but the cancer came back and the second time around, the diagnosis was terminal. He made the choice not to drag things out with excessive amounts of chemotherapy or other treatments as he wanted to enjoy quality of life in the days he had left. This young and insightful patient of mine was at peace with his decision, minus one thing. I asked if he had a legacy he wanted to leave behind.

Barely in his 20s he was initially uncertain what his legacy would be. As he reflected upon his life and worked toward goals to make peace and say his goodbyes, he realized it was an experience he had during adolescence might be his legacy. He was struck by a drunk driver early in life. He survived, but he had lost the function of both legs. He learned to accept living in a wheelchair and worked past the anger he carried toward the individual who was driving drunk. But he also was inspired to make a difference before leaving this world. His legacy was accomplished when he developed a plan to record himself sharing his story for middle and high school students on the dangers of drunk driving. Not only was his tape done in a professional manner before he passed, but for years afterward, this tape was likely shown to thousands of individuals long after his death. It is possible he saved many lives with his selfless choice. I was proud to be part of the process of helping him find his legacy. This individual left this world in as much peace as possible.

Cancer is uncomfortable because it can leave us thinking about end-of-life issues. Maybe for most, we don't want to explore these issues or think about any unfinished business and goodbyes we might need to someday make, but maybe this brave young patient can help us to live in the moment while we have time. For any of us who want to leave a legacy, how can we touch others to create a memory or make a positive difference? Maybe it is not just living life when present, but perhaps we can become somewhat immortal by living on in the memories of those we touch and the love we choose to leave behind. We all have a story.

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