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#117 Legacy: Linking the Past and the Future Through Story

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As storytelling beings, we are captivated by stories, particularly those that are connected to us. Stories we write about our families - our ancestors - their values, and their time in history, enable our children (and theirs) to transcend time and space, to discover or rediscover their history, deepen their roots and provide them with values that can influence their future.

Stories about ancestors can help us understand and experience compassion for those who came before us. Learning the lessons of history may help us to not repeat what went wrong and to admire and emulate what was right. Understanding the context of their lives, the decisions their time required, the trials that beset them, the opportunities they said yes or no to - all that and more can impact the values and behaviors of our children in this time and in the future.

It follows that if part of our purpose (and responsibility) is to make an impact on future generations, then we will likely be more successful if we pass on values and love in the format of stories rather than lectures or lists of instructions. (I refer you to Dora's vivid memory of visiting her grandfather when she was three years old, and what value she learned - page 48 in Your Legacy Matters.)

From The New Yorker, June 2015
... In life all our stories contain the stories of others
and are themselves contained within larger,
grander narratives,
the histories of our families, or our homelands, or our beliefs.
― Salman Rushdie

The proliferation of communication techniques and platforms, the accessibility of travel (live and virtual) match our almost universal literacy and deep passion to connect to our history and to pass forward these values and a sense of meaning. A spiritual concept accepted by all faith traditions is that each of us is a link in the chain of eternity. Future generations require understanding of the past for direction and we need children to ensure the survival of our memories and values.

Thanks to Michelle, a 2012 legacy writer, for sharing an excerpt of her poem expressing our connection:

...throughout all of history...
I write to the souls who are yet to be, wondering how their lives will be touched by me...
My mind grasping to understand how our lives are but a single strand
Woven together in mystery, connected throughout all of history
Never to be left dangling alone But entwined together as one of God's own...

Suggestions for Action

1. Bring your tea or coffee and your favorite pen and paper to your story corner to write. Set your timer, reflecting and writing each time for no more than 15 minutes.

...every grain of sand brushing against my hands represents a story, an experience, and a block for me to build upon for the next generation.
― Raquel Cepeda

2. Name all the ancestors that you know (knew as a child).

3. Reflect on your favorite story about each of them, preferably from a time when you were a child or adolescent.

4. Choose one and write that story in one paragraph.

5. Then write a paragraph about what you learned from this story (some value, some strength you admire, some understanding the story provides you about your ancestor - his/her life, times, challenges).

6. Repeat paragraphs 4 and 5 for as many ancestors as you want to remember, immortalize, and share with family members younger than you.

7. To simply turn your story into a legacy letter, refer to the four paragraph template (explained on pages 234 and 235 of Your Legacy Matters): context, story, learning, blessing.

May your ancestor stories link you to them
and to your children,
and may all of you be enriched
by these connections.

Rachael Freed, Founder of Life-Legacies (for information, visit, Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist. She trains and certifies Legacy facilitators internationally (online). An inspirational lecturer and workshop facilitator, she provides legacy-related programs and training for health care, philanthropic, and religious organizations, for public and non-profit corporations, and for diverse groups of individuals experiencing life transitions. Freed's latest book is "Your Legacy Matters: Harvesting the Love and Lessons of Your Life - An Intergenerational Guide for Creating Your Ethical Will". She is also the author of "Women's Lives, Women's Legacies: Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations" and "The Women's Legacies Workbook for the Busy Woman: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writing a Spiritual-Ethical Will in 2 Hours or Less".

Freed has trained cardiac professionals internationally to support cardiac families. The 25th Year Anniversary Edition of "Heartmates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart Patient" was published in August, 2012 and the Third Edition of "The Heartmates Journal: A Companion for Partners of People with Heart Disease", are the only resources available to support the emotional and spiritual recovery of families coping with heart disease. For more information, visit

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