Leaving an Impactful Legacy
During a time of tension or deep disappointment, it can be difficult to think about creating a positive legacy for your children, but it is possible. Don’t give in to despair or minimize your power to create a positive climate of influence and leave a legacy in your children’s lives. Your attitude, lifestyle, values, faith, and your own example impact your kids in ways you may never fully know. Author and Pastor Chuck Swindoll summarized building legacy so well when he said, “Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.” I know that was certainly the case with my own parents.
My father had his flaws, but he was a good man and I looked up to him. At the end of his life, he was quite feeble and he fell and broke his hip while using his walker. The doctor told us he thought he could fix the hip but he was concerned that if Dad didn’t get up and move around after the surgery, he would die of pneumonia. Two weeks later, after a successful hip surgery, he was indeed placed in hospice care because he hadn’t gotten up and moved around. He eventually died exactly as the doctor forewarned—from pneumonia.
I was alone with my dad in his room at a convalescent hospital a few days before his death when an energetic physical therapist came in the room and asked my dad to get up because it was time for physical therapy. I thought that a bit strange given my dad’s condition but decided to watch what would happen. Dad gave it a valiant try but he almost fell out of bed in the process. I jumped up and caught him. The physical therapist seemed surprised at his frailty and then noticed she had the wrong chart!
“Bob, how did you break your hip?” the therapist asked.
“It was a motorcycle accident,” dad said without missing a beat. I smiled. The therapist looked at me with a puzzled expression.
“Actually,” I said, “he fell from his walker but he did have a motorcycle accident about forty-five years ago.”
She smiled, looked back and forth between Dad and me, and then said, “Bob, this guy looks like he is your son. Do you have any other children?”
“Yes,” Dad said, “his mom and I have four boys.” He listed our names. He then added, “And I’m proud of all my boys.” It brought tears to my eyes to hear Dad say that about us. “I’m looking forward to being with God soon in Heaven,” he added.
The therapist didn’t quite know how to respond to that. She smiled again.
“I’ve lived a good life and I really have no regrets,” Dad said. “God is waiting for me in eternity.” At this point, tears again welled up in my eyes, and when I looked at the physical therapist, I saw she had also had tears in her eyes. She lovingly put her hand on my father’s shoulder and said, “Goodbye, Bob. You are a good, good man. Thank you.”
Later, as I reflected on what my dad had said, I was reminded of the studies psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross had done on death and dying. As a researcher, Dr. Kübler-Ross spent many years interviewing people who were near death. One of her findings was that at the end of life, most people think primarily about two things: a right relationship with God, and a right relationship with those they love.
This was certainly the case with my dad. In his final days on earth, he was at peace, and that taught me a valuable lesson: there is absolutely nothing more important in life than a right relationship with God and a right relationship with family. Ultimately, that’s what defines the legacy you leave your children. As difficult as it is to raise children and then maintain that bond through the complexity of relating to them as adults, what matters most isn’t the material inheritance you leave behind, but the inheritance of love and faith you hand down to the next generation.