06/03/2015 01:29 pm ET Updated Jun 03, 2016

Legacy Writing: A Tool to Discover and Communicate Values


It's difficult to articulate values without falling into cliches: everyone wants family to have each other's back, to be close, loving, and safe -- to have peace in the world -- to be kind, compassionate, and generous to all -- to 'turn the other cheek' and be forgiving.

This winter I invited the women who were in legacy facilitator training with me to do a short writing exercise, not for the purpose of discerning values, but to provide a sense of generations, an appreciation of life and our mortality, and to address two of our universal needs: wanting to be known and remembered.

The exercise was simple and direct: Complete this prompt in as many ways as you can in five minutes. The prompt was "How I want to be remembered when I'm gone is . . ."

At the end of the day
people won't remember what you said or did,
they will remember how you made them feel.
-- Maya Angelou

With permission I share with you some of what we wrote during those sacred five minutes:

When I think about how I want to be remembered by future generations and my family, I feel overwhelmed with responsibility, and touched, thinking: 'Oh my God, I mattered.'

I want to be remembered for living my motto: Treat everyone with kindness.

I want to be remembered as a woman who took responsibility for my words and actions, and apologized when I hurt others.

My hope while I'm living and in the future when I'm gone is that I will be remembered as giving fully of my self in the moment each time I'm with them.

I'd like to be remembered for having the courage to refuse further chemo and radiation treatments following my cancer surgery, and that my years of experiencing illness transformed me so that I lived gratefully, humbly, and joyfully and served as an inspiration for others.

Suggestions for Action:

1. Take time to reflect about your values as understood today, thinking about how you'd like to be remembered fifty years from today.

2. Set a timer for 5-15 minutes. Write responses to the prompt: How I'd like to be remembered by family, friends, and future generations is: ---

3. Set aside your writing for 24-48 hours. When you return to it, consider which of your responses are true to the way you are and which are ideals that you hope to live, so as to match your values with your behavior.

4. Write a legacy letter to future generations (to preserve for after your death) about your ideal values, and the values you live daily. Offer your readers your wisdom of experience and aspiration, for yourself and for them. Close with a blessing of love for them coupled with your wish to be long remembered as an inspiration for their lives.

... with each passing year ...
the memories fade
and it becomes the responsibility
of the next generations to keep the
stories, symbols, rituals, [values] alive
-- Amichai Lau-Lavie

May your values define your ordinary days,
and may they inspire your own future
and the future lives of those you love,
- Rachael Freed

NEW: Your Legacy Matters is now available everywhere. 2012 editions also available of Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations, The Legacy Workbook for the Busy Woman, Heartmates: A Guide for the Partner and Family of the Heart Patient, and The Heartmates Journal. (All legacy books are also available as pdf's on Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker and adult educator. She provides programs, workshops, and training for financial, health, and religious organizations focused on legacy principles and practices. She has eight grandchildren. Her home is Minneapolis, Minn.

Follow Rachael Freed on Twitter: