How Do You Want to Be Remembered?

How one wants to be remembered is not only about a legacy left after we die, it is also about the small memories that we leave behind us in each encounter – large and small. I have found myself wondering how others would remember me.

How would:

  • The clerk at the grocery store remember me?
  • Co-workers at various jobs?
  • The interns I supervised?
  • The taxi-driver that chose a longer route than I wanted?
  • Would I be remembered as the life of the party or the person who didn’t say anything at all?
  • What traces have I left in the places I’ve lived and visited?

Do I even care to be remembered?

A blogpost, Why do you remember some people and completely forget others?” quotes Terrence Gargiulo:

“A story is the shortest distance between two people.”

The author, Mark, writes that, “If you want people to remember you, tell them a story.”

Sharing stories is the premise behind the well-known oral story history projects, The Story Corps and The History Makers.

StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of their lives. Since 2003, over 50,000 everyday people have interviewed family and friends through their efforts. Each conversation is recorded on a free CD and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind.

The HistoryMakers is the largest archival collection of its kind in the world. Its goal is to complete 5,000 interviews of both well-known and unsung African American HistoryMakers. It includes the stories of individual African Americans along with those of African American organizations, events, movements and periods of time that are significant to the African American community.

  • Who do I remember and why?
  • Do I pay full attention to my friends when I talk to them?
  • With whom do I connect and who have I missed?

Recently, a lovely women who I worked with on a couple of committees passed after a year-long bout with pancreatic cancer. Like other “work-friends” I learned more about her in her illness and after she passed than I had during her life, largely because a community of caring friends was created online and organized to make her comfortable, put her affairs in order, and get acknowledgment for her achievements while she was still here. In their actions, I saw that she felt loved, appreciated and respected by their actions in response to her service during her life.

When I visited her in the hospital, she was a shadow of her previously strong physical and strikingly-beautiful self. It hurt to see her so reduced.

“It was a shame…that last impressions were so often the ones which endured. How many of us would want to be remembered for what we finally became, rather than for what we were?”

(This quote, from the protagonist of the novel, Wish Her Safe at Home, speaks about appearances: youth versus beauty, health versus decay.)

Thinking about legacy is not just the province of those of us who are mid-lifers or older. Students from around the world, participating in the Virtues Project, share their thoughts about how they’d like to be remembered. The students’ discussions in the Virtues project are compiled in Virtues, A Book of Inner and Outer World) and launched at the iEARN Regional Conference in Amman-Jordan in the summer of 2004.

Jamie Massarelli, a student at Notre Dame Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts shares how she would like to be remembered:

After I die, hopefully many years from now, I pray that everyone will have great things to say about me and remember me. I strive to be the best person I can be, so that I have made an impact on other peoples' lives. These are some of the things that I would want people to say about me when I have died and hopefully gone to heaven.

Does thinking about the legacy you will leave behind cause you to live differently? Would it make you live self-consciously? Would knowing that in every action you are in fact leaving something be a burden or a release?

“Another question you must ask yourself is this. When finally your Book of Life is closed – will it be a success story?

A success story."

(From Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar)

The idea of my legacy, of what I want to be remember for, is best expressed through the lines of a song I grew up with in church:

May the work I’ve done, speak for me.
May the work I’ve done, speak for me.
When I stand beside the throne I want to hear him say well done…
May the work I’ve done speak for me.

Being of service to others was inculcated in me from my earliest years via this hymn in church. (We went “every time the door opened” as we used to say. I don’t go to church often any more but the lessons learned there and the music live in my heart, influence my thinking and color my actions.)

I will not leave my children money, stocks, priceless antiques, or things of great monetary value. I will leave them with abundant love and memories of unflagging support and love. I want the world to remember that I was here and that, while I was here, I encouraged people and shared my resources.

Another young blogger writes, As A Mom, What Legacy do you want to leave your children?

I was talking to a life coach today and she asked me what legacy I wanted to leave my children. She asked me to imagine my boys, all grown up, describing me to someone who didn't know me. She asked me how I would want them to describe me as a mom and as an individual.

In the post, the writer goes on to discuss how she wants to be remembered as a mom and as an individual.

Lisen Stromberg writes about her grandmother in "Everyday Women: Unsung Heroes: this is My Story – What is Yours?”. Writing about her grandmother she says:

You won’t read about this woman who married a man of little education but much ambition. Together they built a clothing business serving the military and dressing the well-to-do of Albuquerque. They also established the first credit union and the first shopping center in town. They even opened an auto dealership. While he worked, she volunteered: PTA president, founder of a home for neglected and abused children, Planned Parenthood board member. She also raised my father and his siblings. The four went on to great accomplishments: a Rhodes Scholar, a doctor and NIH scientist, an educator and a community activist.


  • Katie on her Crazy Loves Company blog wrote an obituary for herself.
  • Here’s the thing. I don’t know how long I have to accomplish all that.  I don’t want to be saying, “when I retire then I’ll …” because life is unpredictable.

    So, my new plan is to do all of those things, just work on them along the way.

  • “Finally Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” - The Last Lecture video (delivered on 9/18/07) and book by Randy Pausch.
  • How I Want to be Remembered interview with Howard Zinn. Professor Zinn discussed how he would like to be remembered: for"introducing a different way of thinking about the world," and as "somebody who gave people a feeling of hope and power that they didn’t have before."
  • Common Dreams

Part of my personal legacy has already been created both through the life I've lived and the children I've reared. Like many bloggers, my blog post is part of the legacy I leave behind, a record of what I was thinking and living. I cannot do anything about what I've left behind yesterday and before, but I can consciously decide what I do going forward. What are you leaving behind?

Good and plenty!


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