“If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.” Maya Angelou
By simple definition, a legacy is a gift of money or property, a bequest, or something handed down upon death. Such definition seems a bit antiquated, however, as if a legacy can only be ‘things’ or ‘gifts’ of the past; items, if you will, that can easily be taken, destroyed, or erased.
In contrast, last week found us celebrating the gifts of compassion, nurturing, and kindness given by the nurses and teachers we honored with our appreciation; the ongoing legacy of emotion and service by these professionals is unquestionable. And yesterday, we celebrated Mother’s Day and both the legacy of those mothers dearly missed as well as the living legacy of the mothers and women who love, guide, and support us daily.
In addition to positive celebrations, last week also witnessed a sort of legacy-in-the-making with a national outpouring of love aimed at ensuring the name and memory of a young man is not erased or overlooked. A hashtag and run became tools available to everyone to give the gift of legacy to someone who is no longer here to create a legacy of his own.
We have all seen the images and heard the stories of people quarantined and dying alone or funerals postponed and cancelled due to limits on the gathering of groups. For these family members, the legacy of a loved one must feel ripped away and neglected in the most unnatural and heartbreaking of ways. As difficult as it is to cancel celebrations of many kinds, the cancellation of celebrating a life lived is a burden no family should bear.
The luxury of legacy is something parents who lose a child to cancer feel with great heaviness of heart. A child’s life cut short means cutting short the opportunity for a child to grow and build a legacy of their own by each and every definition of the word. For parents like me, there is an unspoken, indescribable emotion of loving need to bequest our children and the world around them with the gift of their memory and of the possibilities and opportunities that will now go unrealized.
I am grateful to have celebrated and continue to celebrate the legacy of my loved ones lost to cancer in many ways. ‘I Back Jack’ is more than a bracelet, hashtag, organization, or event; rather, it is a mantra and legacy of love from my dear son guiding me daily. It is also with great heart that I aim to help other parents create legacies of love for their own children by joining them together with opportunities for the funding of research and clinical trials. Together, we have an unspoken understanding that our goal in saving the lives of other children is a bequest of the heart we can gift with memory and with hope.
The moments in which we face the opportunity to create legacy for ourselves and our loved ones can define us in the most positive or negative ways. I have witnessed families come together and equally seen families torn apart at the hand of an unforeseen and painful bequest or legacy. Inspiring, however, are the beautiful stories of family and friends coming together, of honoring, of living and loving in perpetuity with the physical, spiritual, and interpersonal gifts a loved has bestowed upon them.
Our entire world is facing an unknown crisis at present that has left us all feeling scared, angry, unsteady, uncertain, and vulnerable. And though we are lucky to have many forms of communication to keep us connected, we are isolated. We may have cancelled events and gatherings, but opportunities to leave a mark and curate a life well-lived are never postponed.
How do you want to be remembered? What mantra best captures the heart and spirit of those you love? Simple luxuries taken for granted may not be available to us right now, but the long-lasting luxury of legacy is something we can both create for ourselves and those we love and care about. We have the opportunity to replace a pencil with a permanent mark of certainty so appreciation, memorialization, and celebration of legacy are felt in our homes, in our hearts, and in our world forevermore.