I recently lost a brother-in-law to cancer, and a friend to a sudden heart attack.  Their deaths affected me profoundly and made me consider the legacies they built and left behind.

The literal definition of “legacy,” at least according to Merriam-Webster, is “a gift by will especially of money or other personal property.”  I think it’s way more than that.  To me, a legacy is anything we leave after death, including memories and life lessons.  Regarding life lessons, both Richard and Cheston left behind legacies of kindness, interest in others, and love of their families.

I’ve been asked about my own legacy from time to time.  The interviewers want to know how I’d like my tombstone to read, and I’ve provided only joking answers.  I typically say, “she never left a French fry” or “she made a fantastic Thai chicken pizza.”  Neither reflects the actual legacy I’d like to leave.

All kidding aside, before we leave a legacy, we need to build one.  What does that look like?  And for whose benefit?  Let’s start with the obvious – your family.  I’m sure you have family traditions, whether it’s the meal you always serve on Thanksgiving, or the bowl you use for the candy to hand out to trick-or-treaters.  Passing along your cornbread stuffing recipe is one way of building a legacy.  Giving the Halloween candy bowl to your adult daughter is another.  Creating something enduring is also a way of building your legacy, whether it’s the family shoe repair business or the collection of quilts you’ve been sewing since you were a teenager.

Building a legacy should probably involve taking a look at the totality of your life experiences, beliefs, values, and traditions to figure out what can be passed down from generation to generation.  And hopefully, the good outweighs the not-so-good.  Think about your own parents and grandparents.  How did their life experiences, beliefs, values, and traditions shape your life?  My grandparents moved from Eastern Europe to the United States to escape anti-Semitism, and my parents were therefore first-generation Americans.  Their beliefs and values shaped my own pride in being both Jewish and American.  Their emphasis on education made it imperative that I get a college degree.  And their tradition to reward my good report cards with a trip to the bookstore gave me an insatiable love for reading.

I am working hard as a Mediator to create my own legacy to include compassion, empathy, kindness, and support.  It’s the mantra I visit in my mind before each mediation appointment.  I’ve been doing this for years, and I’m proud to say it’s become not only what I do but who I am.

Five minutes from now is a very good time to start building your own legacy. Give some thought to the experiences, beliefs, values, and traditions you’d like to leave behind, and then take steps to make sure your loved ones are grasping this from you.

And please do this now. Waiting takes away the joy of actually being your own builder.