And it’s not that freeing shift that I’ve noticed among many women in their fifties, that ability to say “I don’t care what you think” and take action thereupon with utter ease and confidence.
Although, I have to say, I am looking forward to that.
No, this swaying of thoughts has more to do with one word:
What do you want on your tombstone?
What will I leave behind?
I’m not worried about material things. Who cares about stuff?
I wonder what people will say about me when I’m gone. Or if they even will.
Like the old pizza commercials, I ask myself, “What do you want on your tombstone?”
When I’m working with clients who are stressed out and depressed because they’re not “good enough” or “getting enough done,” I’ll ask them with gentle humor, “So, what do you think they’re going to put on your tombstone? Something like:
Here lies Mary Smith.
She finished her reports before the deadline.
And kept her house clean at the same time.
In the same way, I’ve been fretting about my tombstone. What do I want on it? And how do I leave a legacy? What is the mechanism? Is there an instruction book somewhere?
And then, in the bittersweet way that life often brings us things, I received a glimpse toward answering some of my questions.
Wendy Wayne was a child advocate, social activist, community leader, and friend. She was the kind of woman who spent her vacations building latrines for poor villages in Nicaragua. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Wendy flew there to help people make their way through the devastation, both physically and emotionally.
She was an influential and important community leader, yet Wendy had the ability to make you feel as though you were the most interesting and special person in the world.
I said that this story is bittersweet so here’s the bitter part:
Wendy was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins’ lymphoma in 2008.
Two weeks ago she died.
Living your legacy
I don’t know why we have to lose someone like Wendy at the young age of 64.
But I do know this – and here’s the sweet part:
On the front page of the website the family used to keep us up to date with Wendy’s progress was this message –
In lieu of flowers, meals, care packages, etc., please hug the people you love and do an act of kindness. I think we can all agree that hugging and acts of kindness are the best ways to honor and support Wendy during this fight. She’d love to hear about these random acts of kindness, so go do something good in Wendy’s name and then email her or post what you did in the guestbook – that will help buoy her spirits more than anything!
Of course that’s what Wendy would want during this time. Not the focus on her, but on how to be loving and kind to others.
It was Wendy’s legacy.
And she hadn’t done it by reading a book, or a blog post, or following five steps, or using some mechanism.
She didn’t preach it, force it on others, or insist upon it.
She lived it. Every day of her life.
And because she lived it, I – and the thousands of others touched by Wendy – have this thought engraved in the front of our minds:
What a legacy.
I want something like that on my tombstone.
So now, instead of my existential angst, I have a new question.
What am I living each day?
I don’t really know the answer to that question. Yet.
But the thing I’m more aware of now is this:
My legacy is not something “out there,” it’s how I bring myself to the world each day.
Next week, a Celebration of Life is being held for Wendy. It’s going to be at a large venue in her hometown because her family knows that thousands of people will want to come to remember and honor her.
If Wendy were here, she would wave off the idea that so many people had come to pay tribute to her.
She would just want them to be kind to each other.
It’s her legacy.
What do you want on your tombstone? Do you know what you are living each day?
In loving memory of Wendy Wayne, Ed.D – leader, altruist, activist, friend.