Cheryl's Blog

What We Leave Behind: Reflections on life and legacy

It was a cold day here in the Northeast when I opened the shutters and discovered the world covered in white. I shook my head and thought, it’s the first day of spring and with the warmer temps last week, I thought for sure winter was done. But then I remembered our friend, Ileen. If Ileen were here she’d yell, “Queen, look!” as soon as the shutters were opened. “It’s a magic wonderland!” (She gave me the nickname Queen years ago)

Excitement was Ileen’s superpower. She could get excited about anything – a pale winter sky, an old song on the radio, the specials at a restaurant, or how oat milk turned to foam when added to her tea. This morning, as I thought about how she’d react to the snow, I realized that Ileen’s voice in my head is her most potent legacy.

When we lose someone we love, it doesn’t take long to notice that life goes on. When my dad died, for instance, I remember thinking it strange that a man who was larger than life could fade into the background of conversations within weeks. I had the same experience earlier when Debbie Ford passed in 2013. She was such a prominent figure in the self-help field and shortly after her passing, I took note when the news died down and life went on.

This observation was a wake-up call. Contrary to what society would have us believe, what we accomplish during our lives may be far less important than how we live on in the hearts and minds of others. Or, as I learned in my coach training decades ago, the “who” always comes before the “what.”

You might cure a disease, publish bestselling books, or invent a product that transforms the world, but at the end of the day, these accomplishments will slip into history books to be revisited now and then. What endures is the essence of those we’ve loved, how they made us feel, the wisdom they shared that carries us forward, or the lessons we learn from what they did or didn’t do.

Debbie’s death shifted my perspective about legacy and it continues to hold true. Who I am in everyday interactions is far more important than the success I’ve achieved. Being patient and present with people, being honest and real, helping when I can, or emulating the positive qualities I miss in those I’ve lost. These may be the most valuable endowments of all.

So today I claim my inheritance from Ileen. I’m excited about the snow and the cold, the way blueberries turn yogurt purple, and how winter days give us a chance to look forward to spring.

Your turn. What are you excited about today?




Photo by Joel Moysuh on Unsplash