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What are you living each day?


As I’ve been moving rapidly toward the half-century point in my life, I’ve noticed a certain shift in my thinking.

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:

Be kind.

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.




  1. bheretoday says:


    Your tribute about your friend touches me deeply. Wendy must have been a helluva gal. I find that those humble spirits are rare gifts to humanity. Remember please, that she too was fortunate to have you in her life.

    I understand your heavy heart about leaving a legacy. I crossed the half-century mark a little more than a year ago and had similar thoughts. I have no children and am not particularly close to my nieces. We’re miles apart in life values.

    I’ve settled into contentment that my legacy will hopefully be just as you described. How do I treat people every day? Am I kind, considerate and respectful? Do I take time to be present to the people near me? Am I playful and fun or serious and business-like? Do I focus on the non-stuff stuff that matters most–the stuff money can’t buy?

    If I can, when I end life here, I’ll be satisfied. But let’s not make it anytime soon!

    Happy Independence Day, my friend! I truly hope we meet face-to-face one day.


    • Bobbi Emel says:

      Hi Beth,

      I hope to meet you someday, too!

      I love the questions you ask yourself. I think they really keep you aware of what you’re living each day. I think I’ll borrow them for myself, too!

      Happy 4th to you!!

  2. My legacy is not something “out there,” it’s how I bring myself to the world each day.

    Beautiful! this is an amazing way to look at your work and life!

  3. Hi Bobbi,
    You honor Wendy with such wonderful and heartfelt words. I’m constantly thinking about my legacy at the ripe old age of 32 and have been for a couple of years now. Heck, I even wrote a blog post last year titled “What Do You Want on My Tombstone?” Although now deleted, it served a purpose at the time.
    Good luck finding the why and how behind your impact on the world before you leave it. It’s one of the toughest and most rewarding things anyone can do.

    • Bobbi Emel says:

      Joel, I think it’s great that you’re already thinking about your legacy. It’s really not a morbid thought, right? It’s something we all need to be aware of and, like I found just recently, it can really affect how you LIVE your life.

      Take care, my friend.

  4. Amit Amin says:

    First – thank you for sharing yet another deep personal experience in a meaningful way.

    Second – I have no idea (to your question in orange). My natural instinct is to say, “who cares, I’ve got decades to figure it out”, but I know that I will enjoy my life more if I start thinking about it now rather than later. That’s not to say I don’t have ideas, but separating my existential angst and immature insecurity from a legacy worth living towards each day is difficult.

    For example, I want to be recognized for my contributions to others. But there-in lies the problem – I don’t really. That is, I want to help others in such a profound way that upon my death my contributions will be recognized, but I don’t want to want to help others for the sake of being recognized (double want intended). That’s sub-optimal.

    So then perhaps a better memorial would take a page from Wendy, “here lies Amit, a man who worked tirelessly to help others,” which focuses on the character and intention rather than the outcome.

    Hm…. I’m not sure.

    • Bobbi Emel says:

      These are really great ponderings, Amit. I totally get it about wanting to leave a contribution but having it not be so much about recognition but rather about benefiting the community. Well said and well thought-out.

      And yes, you’re pretty young to be thinking about legacies, but really, it’s never to young to think about how one impacts the local and global village.

  5. Wendy’s legacy continues in the loving words of a friend. Thanks for sharing these compassionate thoughts on the meaning of life. We all need to remember what’s important. Kindness shown to those in need is what lives on.

    I have no idea what I want on my tombstone. I’m not even sure I want one! I do love your question, “Do you know what you are living each day?” … bearing the meaning of existence throughout the day would definitely have an effect on the outcome.

  6. Wendy Wexler says:

    thanks for this….Wendy and I were friends. We still are friends……we will always be.
    We were introduced about 5 years ago by our children, who are friends. I knew nothing about her history, about all the things she has accomplished, the quality (and KIND) life she had lived. We were instantly kindred spirits though, perhaps because we were both “Wendy W.”!! She asked me to keep her company while she was having her treatment….keep her company long distance. She asked me to join Facebook so we could play scrabble daily and “chat”. She in California, me in Maryland. I slowly peeled back the layers of all her astounding life. One could only be in awe of her example, and yet she always managed each and everyone feel so valuable no matter what.

    I miss her every day…..she challenges us all to improve our lives and those around us by “walking the walk” with such grave and sweetness.
    Wendy Wexler

    • Bobbi Emel says:

      Wendy, thank you so much for this. The “other Wendy W” had such an incredible way of making each person feel so valued. I am inspired by that quality in her as well as her utter kindness. Although I rarely saw Wendy after I moved away, the world still seems a different place without her in it. I hope we all can follow her lead and be kind to each other.

  7. Fran Sorin says:

    bobbi….Your tribute to Wendy is magnificent. And sharing your questions about your own legacy will give others the permission to spread their own wings and do the same. When you used the word ‘kindness’ to describe Wendy’s legacy, it reminded me of my Mom. She was a diminutive, physically and soulfully beautiful, and kind beyond words. It was her love and kindness that is her legacy. 7+ years after her death, people still stop my dad on the street to tell him that Mom was the kindest person they had ever met. I think it was Rabbi Hillel (?) who said: ‘The only thing that matters is kindness. The rest is commentary’.

    I’m sorry for the loss of your friend. But what a beautiful gift she has left you with! Fran

    • Bobbi Emel says:

      Thanks for your lovely words, Fran! Your mom sounds like a wonderful woman. Isn’t kindness something? It rises above so much that is dark in this world. I’m sure you still miss your Mom, but, as you said to me, I think she has left you a wonderful gift as well!

  8. Lovely tribute to your friend, Wendy. She is an inspiration on what it means to be humble and give back to others. Your question is a good one to ask ourselves on a regular basis. If we could live everyday as if this were our last, our life would most likely be more meaningful. All the stuff we accumulate has no value on our last day. What will matter then, are the people we have loved and the ones that loved us. Thank you for a great reminder, Bobbi.

  9. Kaylee says:

    Beautiful post, Bobbi.. Such a powerful reminder to be mindful of how we’re showing up to the world. I was actually just thinking about this the other day – I read so many blog posts, self-improvement articles, etc…But how many do I put to good use? How do they help me show up better in my life? Yours is a call to action I can take. Thank you. =)

  10. Priska says:

    I left my job of 16 years to start a blog. Why, because I began to think about what legacy I wanted to leave behind besides money and property.
    The legacy I chose, that each one of us is valuable and our life was of value.

  11. saraholeary says:

    Another lovely and moving story Bobbi. Thank you! I’ve been thinking a lot about my legacy in recent months (I think it really comes up once we pass that 5 decade mark), and I got a lot of encouragement and inspiration on this very subject from Chris Guillebeau’s book, The Tower (a free ebook I believe).

    I’m in total agreement: my legacy is not outside of me, I live it each day.

    • Bobbi Emel says:

      You know, Sarah, I really see you living your legacy through the writing you share with us. And I’m not just saying that to butter you up, either 😉 I see you really giving yourself to the world each day as best you can.

  12. Nikky44 says:

    I totally agree!! very beautiful post!

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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.