Think broadly about your legacy

Kirk Ruehl, special to the HeraldDecember 13, 2013 

At a recent church event, Buck said that when his wife died he either sold or gave away everything he owned with the exception of his retirement portfolio.

He told us that this brought surprising freedom and allowed him to enjoy more of his remaining days with his family.

Lucy, another participant, shared that even though her grown children come over gladly at holiday times, they invariably want to visit their grandma's home while in the area. There is something about grandma's hospitality that calls to them. Far from resenting this, Lucy sees such familial endearments as gift; part of her mother's "living legacy."

Buck and Lucy are fictional names for real people. Both made quite an impression as they addressed a group gathered for a half-day seminar on advance planning.

How many of us think more broadly about our legacy? For this group and many others I work with, legacy is not just a matter of money or heirlooms; it is "the bestowal of what you believe God may be calling you to impart to those around you." In a word, "living."

At the end of the book of Genesis, Jacob addresses his sons from his deathbed. He records the prosperity of his final days and gives orders for his burial. This charge spans three chapters and you get a strong sense of his "dying" legacy complete with blessings and curses.

My question is, why did he wait so long?

As a hospice and palliative care chaplain I'm always surprised that people hold off on these revelations. It seems to me that for many folks it is always "too early" until it is "too late." What if we were to move it up a bit and think in terms of our "living" legacy as our discovered options for what is still doable?

A great study called Looking Back and Giving Forward is one of many resources that can help us do the spiritual work of meaning-making sooner rather than later. During a seven-week period, participants 50 years and older reflect on their lives in the safety of covenant community and find things to be excited about.

This is the groundwork of "living legacy" and it is a much richer idea than "retirement." It seems that acknowledging our uniqueness and engaging our curiosity helps us shape a meaningful way forward. In my experience it also transforms lives at the very time people feel they have less to offer others.

I can't speak for Jacob, but the authors of Looking Back and Giving Forward say, "You should feel free to go beyond your current concept of legacy, to endow it with what you feel is God's truth for you and your community now and in the future." Understood in this way, legacy is not only "living" but also a kind of "estate planning for the heart" for you and those around you.

It may be the best gift you can give at any time of year.

-- Kirk Ruehl is a chaplain, educator and founder of Conversation Academy and attends Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Kennewick. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email

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