“What’s so important about saying it out load?” I was asked a few months ago during a Q&A session at the end of one of my presentations that talked about ?creating an organic legacy? Good question I replied. What is so important about trying to get our aging parents to speak openly to us about the story of their lives? The short answer is “in the nick of time” insights.
It is easy to think of life review as simply a reconsideration by our aging parents of the important relationships and events in their lives. Certainly that is a big part of it, but certainly not all of it. There are unexpected discoveries, things you never saw coming, to be had in the actual telling of stories out loud. They are emotional and spiritual surprises that are not revealed through “private brain chatter.”
In this way, the telling out loud uniquely facilitates the legacy process. It helps our aging parents discover among other things hidden truths and forgotten strengths. It doesn’t matter how well they know the details of familiar stories or how often they have been repeated in the past, at some point the retelling reveals a new insight that catches everyone by surprise. But these “aha moments” only occur in the actual telling of the story to someone who is empathetic to occasion. Older adults need a safe forum to hear themselves and then to ultimately use the raw material of these exchanges for their “organic legacy.”
For those of you who are not familiar with organic legacy, below is a summary of some the key points of the concept.
Legacy is not optional.
When understood as a developmental need, legacy insists on being addressed, either consciously or unconsciously. It’s the end product of life review, a developmental mandate of those privileged to survive into old age. Once we enter this stage, we constantly reconsider our lives to determine how we want to be remembered.
Returning to the past is not pathology.
Life review and the creation of a legacy are a natural evolution of where we need to be developmentally at the end of our lives. Legacy surfaces when control issues abate. If control issues are not resolved, they dominate our developmental mandate, and we never get to focus on legacy.
In searching for an organic legacy, events that may have been misinterpreted, misunderstood, or unrepaired in the past are reexamined.
This process reinterprets events and, if necessary, invites us to make amends. This process is difficult because of many factors:
The number of experiences we have stored up over a lifetime;
The tremendous mental focus needed to do it right;
The physical energy required to remain highly involved at a time when physical strength is ebbing each day;
Unfacilitated control issues.
Creation of an organic legacy offers the potential for healing.
Forming an organic legacy means that we have dedicated considerable time, energy and insight into what has happened in our lives, and tried to determine what everything means. Packaging the essence of that journey provides future generations with a perspective that fosters understanding, forgiveness, acceptance and resolution of values that may or may not have been appreciated during our lifetimes.
Legacy is not simply a summary of what we’ve experienced.
Part of our legacy is what we lived and part of it is what we may not have lived, but what we admired. Both parts of legacy contain values for which we would like to be remembered. Legacy coaches facilitate the articulation of these values.
Legacy gives us a chance to play an active role in the future.
Through organic legacy, we are able to create a vehicle that has the potential to influence people beyond those we encountered during our lifetime. The goal is to be part of a conversation 100 years from now, even though we are not physically present, because we set in motion a series of events or memories that live on after us.