I have been to 5 funerals this year. With each person I lose, I reflect on the person, their life and the people they touched. Naturally, the five people I have lost have been different ages, from different economic backgrounds and different family situations. There was beautiful Ronnie Sinon. She was a coworker and a cousin by marriage. She went far too young, and leaves a husband of only a year. There was Doris (Tyler) Zum Mallen; my first cousin, twice removed. She attained the great age of 91, and leaves 5 children, 12 grandchildren, and many great grandchildren behind. My uncle Mike Langenfeld was the hardest for me. Also too young, Mike had a great interest in military history. He was a veteran and a long time boy scout leader. Also gone is Calvin Bisping, who leaves three young adult sons and his sweet wife Laurie (nee Artman) as well as many people in the town of Peotone who greatly mourn his early passing. Possibly the most tragic was the 31 year old wife of a high school friend, Jeff Molsen. Though I never met his Whitney, I hurt greatly for my friend as he deals with his loss.
The one thing they hold in common: they could not take it with them. Not their money, not their toys, not their loved ones. They all leave a void behind them. And the thing is, it will happen to every single one of us. It might be tomorrow, it might be when we are 99 years old, but it will happen. It is unavoidable. At times, this inevitability is enough to bring me to my knees as I think of those I love who might go before me, or those who I leave behind that will mourn my passage.
So, what can be done? Can we change the outcome? No. But what we CAN do is control what we leave behind in terms of our legacy. Our story can be told. We can tell it. In whatever way we want. We can keep a journal of our thoughts, our beliefs, our accomplishments and triumphs. We can record our voices, tell our story in our own words. We can video a message, a prayer, a request. We can ensure that we are not forgotten and that our name and memory is preserved for those we care about in the future, including those that are not even born yet.
A great way to do this is to research and record our family history. Tracing your lineage is a way to connect the past and the future. You serve as the bridge between the two. By recording the information of your life and the lives of those closest to you, you preserve that vital family link and bring your ancestors to your descendants.
The hard part is starting. We all think we will “have time later” or will do it when you have a break in your hectic day to day life. NO!! Do not wait! Start NOW. With smartphones today, you can quickly jot down information as you think of it when you’re waiting for the train or in the doctor’s office. Email it to yourself. Create a “Family Legacy” folder and put the emails there. Better yet, set up a free Drop Box account and save it there. Make sure to give others access or leave your email password where it can be recovered after you’ve passed. When other family members email you something you want preserved about the family, put it in the same folder. Copy family photos from Facebook to the folder. Get a birth announcement in the mail? Snap a photo and email it to that folder. A newspaper clipping that mentions your son’s baseball game or your daughter’s graduation? Take a photo and email it.
Even if you do NOTHING else to research your family, you have this folder that will give a peek into your life and the lives of your family members. Later, if you do decide to go further, or if you have a family member that wants to begin research, you have a great head start. These baby steps can help you get started and make the task seem less daunting.
Death is the end of our physical self, but it doesn’t have to be the end of our life. Live on by preserving what’s important to you and leave behind something to comfort those you love.