It has been one month since my mother passed. Writing her obituary and eulogy, I realized that she was living her legacy every day–by the words she spoke, the actions she took, and the lives she touched.

At her memorial service, many friends and family members spoke about how her kindness had changed their lives. They talked about the good times at summer picnics and holiday meals. And how, when times were tough, she was always ready with some friendly advice or a shoulder to cry on.

The hardest thing for me to face after my mother’s passing was its finality. You can read more about that in my Medium story, You Can Never Go Home Again.  But I have come to realize that although she is no longer physically present, her impact on other people lives on.

Many poets and pundits have written about leaving a legacy, and they all agree on one thing:

If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased. ~ Maya Angelou

But exactly what does that mean? When I was younger, I had illusions of doing something  grandiose. It wasn’t that I wanted to be rich and famous. But I did want to be recognized for having an impact and making the world a better place.

Something like writing the great American novel or ending hunger or negotiating world peace would have been nice. But my dreams exceeded my ambitions, and I have learned to settle for hoping to have a small impact on the world, one person at a time.

I think parents learn early on that sharing their love with a child, day by day, word by word, action by action, is more than enough of a legacy to leave the world.

For those of us without biological children, our impact is harder to measure. As a professor, I hope I have passed on some modicum of knowledge and wisdom that has made my students’ lives a little better.

But aside from a few thank you notes and teaching awards, that satisfaction is fleeting. New classes come and go, students move on to new jobs and to start families of their own. Eventually, you lose contact and don’t know whether they will remember you fondly when you are gone.

So I was left wondering, what lasting impact will my life have on the world? I think that is why I chose to become a writer when I retired. I hope that my words will help and empower and inpsire readers long after I am gone.

Of course, I am not the first writer to have that thought.

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

We remember Benjamin Franklin as much for his actions as for his words, but it is comforting to know that he considered writing to be one path to leaving a legacy.

I believe in the power of words to change lives. As long as we are learning and growing, sharing our lessons with others is a way to pass down cultural heritage and collective wisdom that otherwise would be lost to the next generation.

In the end, it is the cumulation of your entire life’s experience that becomes your legacy. Every kind word you shared, every gift you gave with generosity and love, every story you wrote down to lift others up and inspire them. They all matter, and so does your voice.

In the words of one of our greatest living legends:

If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader. ~ Dolly Parton

memorial flowers

Writing Prompt

How do you want to be remembered when you leave the world? Imagine you are observing your own memorial service? Who would you want to be there? What would you like them to remember you for? What would you like to hear them say about you?

When you have a clear picture in your mind, think about your day-to-day life. What are you doing to cultivate that legacy? Do you need to change your priorities to create the legacy you want to leave the world?

When you have envisioned the legacy you want to leave, you can create a clear roadmap for the rest of your life. You will know what you have to do, who you have to help, and how your words can inspire them.

I would love to hear your legacy. Please leave me a comment or post in the Shero Sisterhood group and let me know what you discovered.