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Leave A Trail For Others To Follow

Last month my father passed away at the age of 93.  While it was a sad period for me and my family, the good news is that he lived a very full and happy life.  

When a loved one passes, it is customary for someone, usually a family member or close friend, to deliver a eulogy at the funeral.  A eulogy is a speech normally 10 to 20 minutes in length, given to honor and praise a person’s life.

I was given this special honor.  At first, I was nervous as I did not even know where to begin to adequately describe the life of my father; especially a life that has spanned almost a century.  Being the youngest in our family, I really only knew my father later in his life.  I did not know much about his childhood and early life.  As with a lot of people of my father’s generation, he did not talk much about his life or struggles.

So, I started my research of my father’s life by going through his files.  To my surprise, I found that he had taken the time to hand write his own biography over 25 years ago!  I think he had done this as part of the Will he and my late mother had prepared at the time.  He chronicled his life from his early years all the way until his retirement.  I am not very surprised he did this, as my father was a very organized person.  Nevertheless, I was impressed by his thoroughness as he did not divulge much about his life verbally.   His written personal biography helped me tremendously to fill in the gaps in my father’s life that I did not previously know about.  I came away from the experience of writing and delivering my father’s eulogy prouder than ever of him.  I felt I was able to say goodbye to him with the dignity and respect that he deserved.

I learned a number of important lessons from this special experience that I would like to share with you:

1.    Talk to Your Children Often.  This might seem obvious as you probably speak with your kids all the time.  What I mean is having regular conversations with them about you and your family history.  A great time to do this is over the dinner table.  Casually bring up a topic from your past and talk about it while you are eating and invite them to ask questions.  It is important that they know about your life and how your family came to be where it is today.   This knowledge will bring the family closer and give them a sense of pride in themselves and their family.

2.    Collect photographs.  In our digital world, it is now easier than ever to store all of the pictures we take in our daily lives.  There are numerous cloud storage devices available through companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple that you can use.  I use Amazon Photos and what's great about this service is that pictures that I take on my smartphone is automatically uploaded to their service.  Plus, I don’t have to worry about taking up storage space on my phone.  It is also very easy to create and share albums with Amazon Photos. But how about those pictures that we took from our old cameras?  Gather them up, put them in albums and share them with your kids.  Let them know when you took those old pictures and why.  Sharing pictures is a great way to talk to your kids about your life history.

3.    Make a Family Tree.  This is a fun project you can do with your kids and the rest of your family members.  There are quite a number of software programs available to help you do this.  We created our own family tree and it was really fascinating to see how big our family really was.  A family tree helps in understanding where you came from and can give you and your kids a further sense of pride in your family.

4.    Write Your Biography.   Your biography can be as simple as providing a chronology of important dates and events, to a detailed history of your life, values, and beliefs.  This document can also be referred to as an Ethical Will. Just ask yourself what you want your family to know about you and how you want to be remembered.  As I mentioned above, my father's biography was a tremendous help to me and I learned so much about him that I did not know before.

Losing a loved one is never an easy time for the family.   However, you can leave a trail that will allow the rich and lasting memory of who you are and how you lived to go on beyond your own lifetime.

If you have parents who are still alive, talk to them now.  Take some time to learn about their lives, gather old pictures, and encourage them to write their own biographies.  By doing this, their memories can live on as well.