In this article, the last in a series of four for Thrive Global, I want to talk to my fellow parents and their adult children about how we can flourish in the second half of life by leaving a legacy of love. I’ll provide you with a few guidelines from my book Raising an Aging Parent: Guidelines for Families in the Second Half of Life, which explain what it means to leave a legacy of love, rather than one of chaos. And then, I will offer a few tips for how to start creating a legacy of love. 

I want to start by clarifying what I mean by a legacy of love and why it’s so essential to our best possible futures as families, communities, nations, and the world. Our legacy is a continual expression of the love, values, faith, beliefs, wishes, and people we hold sacred. It is our investment in the bright future that we hope will live on after we’re gone. Our legacy allows us to continue paying the good in our lives forward even after we’ve passed. Some would argue that it’s one of the most definitive ways in which we live on. 

Some of us prefer not to think about the time after we’re gone — and are content not to say, do, think about, and/or leave anything to our children, grandchildren, community, favorite causes, or the future inhabitants of our planet. We want to live in the now and avoid thinking about a world that we’re not going to be a part of. Others step up in anticipation of that time when they’ll be gone, and take steps to pay the good (blessings, gifts, miracles, inheritances, abundance, wealth, wisdom, kindness, and so on) they have experienced forward. Doing so provides them with a sense of peace, purpose, and reciprocity, knowing that they’re selflessly giving something back to the world in gratitude for what they’ve been given.

So what do we need to do to leave a legacy of love? What steps do we need to take? Here are three guidelines to help you get started:

1. The most important part of leaving a legacy is what’s happening right here, right now, while you’re alive. 

It particularly relates to how you treat other people, especially your loved ones. A legacy is a measure of the kindness, patience, encouragement, inspiration, support, humility, forgiveness, integrity, and trust you’ve shown others. It is made up of what you’ve given to the world, and the difference you’ve made in people’s lives. If you’ve aspired to bring out the best in others, you’re well on your way to leaving a legacy of love and are headed in the right direction. 

The following behaviors are often associated with bringing out the best in others: 

  • Leading with patience, respect, and the desire to understand other people by being a good listener. 
  • Communicating your needs, feelings, and wants in a direct, forthright, timely, and considerate manner. 
  • Getting out in front of conflict by talking things out and considering other perspectives. 
  • Setting healthy limits and boundaries, and establishing clear terms and conditions. 
  • Operating in good faith, and being trustworthy and reliable. 
  • Remaining humble and nonjudgmental. 
  • Apologizing if and when you’ve said or done something hurtful or wrong. 
  • Talking out and working through disagreements and differences. 
  • Letting go of anger and resentment where possible, and moving forward. 
  • Taking good care of yourself and showing patience with others during stressful periods. 
  • Keeping your heart open; and showing caring, compassion, and kindness. 
  • Getting help when you reach an impasse, get stuck, or go through a rough stretch. 
  • Keeping others in the loop when deliberating and making important decisions. 
  • Acknowledging that you’re not perfect, and that you don’t live in a perfect world.
  • Trying to make peace with life as it is and accepting life’s terms, including impermanence. 

2. Leaving a legacy of love in our families means putting our houses in order in a variety of ways. 

Intergenerational efforts directed toward handling legal and financial matters such as estate planning; the sharing of parents’ innermost feelings about the life they want for their children, grandchildren, and future generations; and a clear statement of their wishes for being remembered need to be spelled out. In addition, their desires for carrying out family traditions, resolving practical matters such as what to do with/how to distribute their material goods, and how to support the surviving parent after one of them passes need to be made clear. At the core of successful family relationships in the second half of life are a variety of inescapably important conversations. 

3. Summoning the courage and strength, and setting the right tone, to speak with our family members about these important topics is paramount.

This can be as simple as having honest, open conversations about a variety of things that really matter to each family member; and forging clear agreements about finances, caregiving, and medical and legal matters. Or, it can be as complicated as taking steps to heal old family wounds, temper past rivalries, and end old grudges. Since not all families are in the habit or practice of engaging in open family discussions, a qualified, third-party intermediary may be necessary to help the family take up these sensitive issues in a safe, constructive environment at a “family council meeting.”

We have no choice but to deal with the fact that life ends, and we then must venture into the great mystery called death. There’s no way around it: all of us will one day die. Whether we leave a legacy of love or one of chaos is a choice we make through our decisions and actions. Leading with kindness, organizing our lives, and eliminating needless guesswork by clarifying our desires are all choices we can make, starting today.

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