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The Importance of Your Legacy

by Josefina Jarosova and Anthony Magestro

legacy planning

When it comes to feeling like we’ve done enough in our life, all too often we feel like we’re burdened with regret. Still, as we’re living it – especially when we’re younger – we tend to put off too much with the intent on getting back to it, whether it’s a day, week, month, or even decades later. As Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist practitioner and author of Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, said in simpler terms: “The trouble is, you think you have time.”

I’d like to talk to you about something no one really likes thinking about: human mortality, I know, deep right? More specifically, making sure your affairs are in order before it’s your own time to shuffle off this mortal coil. Maybe you’re already retired or in the midst of a midlife crisis; maybe you’re just getting done with college or perhaps just starting your first term. And while I sincerely hope that your life is long and full of adventure and excitement, knowing how what you leave behind is handled can bring peace of mind to you at any age.

That isn’t to say you need to have this all set in stone. Life changes, people change, and what we want to do today can be different from what we want even tomorrow. With that in mind, at least preparing and addressing this sooner rather than later can save you and the loved ones you leave behind a lot of pain. Plus, not only will you free yourself up for focusing on life, you’ll also be more prepared than the vast majority of people. According to a survey conducted by NatCen, the UK’s leading independent social research group, 63% said they’d start planning for their death if that meant it’d be easier for their friends and family.

If you haven’t thought about any of this, that’s okay too. There’s no rush and everyone copes with their own mortality (if at all) differently. However, let me tell you a story as to how I found myself at the ripe ol’ age of 20 years old thinking about this stuff and realizing how important it is.

An Interesting Internship

I spent the summer this year as an intern writer here at OneWorld Memorials. Some of my duties included writing and editing product descriptions for search engine optimization, managing the company’s social media, and coming up with ways to engage customers beyond just product sales. When looking for an internship, I only knew the company’s initials, not necessarily what they did or what industry they were in.

As a young, ambitious writer in college, I wasn’t too picky with my applications, so naturally I jumped at the interview invitation from OWM. I was, however, a bit surprised to find out what services OneWorld Memorials provided. Jobs in the death care industry are not really something you come across regularly whilst job hunting. But then I thought to myself, why not give it a shot? What’s the worst that could possibly happen?

Healthcare I knew existed… but death care was a new one. Even still, I figured that this was a good challenge and so I took the job. Interestingly enough, my mother actually works in the healthcare industry, so we joke that I’m still just as rebellious as I was as a teenager by doing the opposite of what she does. More interesting still, I find there’s more in common between health- and death care than one first thinks.

Even if you haven’t heard the terms “death care” before, you’re still probably aware of the industry. This includes all the businesses related to death: funeral homes, morticians, grief counseling, and memorial products (wholesaling, retailing, manufacturing, just like any other industry). While it’s a little morbid to think about and acknowledge, this booming industry will always have business due to the simple fact that everyone dies. To give you a vague idea as to what scale, the CDC reported that just over 2.7 million people had died in the United States in 2015. That’s just in the United States alone and that were reported. Death care isn’t just about those who’ve passed away but providing support and closure to those who have been left behind.

Naturally, writing about urns and keepsake jewelry got me thinking about the overwhelming choice of what happens to us – or at least, what remains of us – after we die. Do I want to donate my body to science? Do I want to be buried or cremated? If I do get cremated, do I want my ashes scattered by my loved ones or kept in their house? Prior to this internship, I had never really given this much though. And like I said, I’m just barely in my 20s, but even still, I’ll die one day too, whether that’s a hundred years from now or in three weeks because of a freak accident. One thing I’m grateful for in working here is that I’ve come to terms with that.

If you’re curious, I’ve decided that I want my body to be cremated and the ashes mixed in with the seeds of a tree in a bio urn that my family can then plant and take care of. I could grow into a nice little bonsai tree or maybe even a mighty oak. I’m still undecided on the variety.

But we’re not here to talk about me. I’ll be fine. What about you though?

A Little Worry Now Saves A Lot of Worry Later

I know, I know. Death isn’t fun to think about and if we’re not dealing with it, why bother thinking about it? If the intent is to maximize the fun and happiness we have in life, wouldn’t it make sense then to address the not-so-fun parts so you don’t have to worry later on? If it’s one thing I really learned from my internship here, it’s that we ought to be more proactive in life – and that includes figuring out what we want done when we die.

When you’re comfortable, you can begin by talking to your family about what you want done with what you leave behind. This can start as who you’d leave your cherished guitar to or whether or not you want to donate your savings to an organization you care about. If you recently had someone pass away, these conversations and reflections are natural enough that you’d find yourself wanting to talk about it, if only to help you cope and work through the situation with your loved ones.

Finding a way to take the pressure away before it happens can be a huge weight off their chest anyway. Maybe not now, but they’ll be thanking you in the moment. Michelle Knox covers this in one of her TED talks, aptly named “Talk about your death while you’re still healthy.” As she relates to coping with deaths in her own life, she frames the discussion less about just… well… coping with death and loss. Instead, it’s about having a conversation about continuing your legacy beyond your lifespan, that that same energy can be based on and applied for the next generation. Describing her own experience with organization several funerals: “I drew comfort from one thing: knowing that this is what each person would have wanted.”

In a way, planning for your death isn’t just about you, but those you’re leaving behind as well.

What’s Next?

I won’t lie: normalizing death for yourself is not an easy process. Some people in some professions might have an easier time than others, especially when exposed to death daily (think of ER nurses and doctors, soldiers abroad, and everyone in the death care industry). And while the uncertainty of death is scary, we have to remember that death is still a part of life. And unless medical advances grant us immortality somehow, some way (while farfetched, the transhumanist movement is providing some interesting plausible insight on how they want to accomplish that), this is something we’re going to have to deal with eventually. It’s not a question of if, but when.

So what can you do? Here’s a few ideas to help you get started:

  • Talk to your parents, spouse, or someone you trust about your “death protocol.” This encompasses everything from whether or not you want to be buried or cremated, as well as naming someone you absolutely trust as an executor when you’re incapacitated in either a major accident or illness (such as requiring life support or giving a “Do Not Resuscitate” order to minimize your pain). Naturally, get these documents notarized and filed with an attorney to make sure there’s legal power behind them.
  • Set up a will and potentially life insurance. This is especially important if you already have a family, but it doesn’t hurt if you’re single and childless to have one either. By coming up with a will with a lawyer and making sure your assets are protected and divvied up where you want them to go after you pass away as well as providing protection for the people you leave behind with a life insurance policy, you’re making everything much easier for your loved ones to cope with your loss, knowing you’re still taking care of them.
  • Think about your legacy. What impact do you want to leave upon the world? What do you want to be known for doing and how do you want that mission to live beyond you? The Latin proverb “Memento mori” (meaning “remember that you will die”) serves as a reminder that when we know our end, it’s up to us to fill in the time between now and then. That said, knowing how you want to spend your time alive will help you determine a legacy you want to have. It doesn’t have to be grand, just enough that you’ll be happy with the stories, thoughts, and emotions you’ve left behind. As many of my fellow millennials would want you to remember, #YOLO.

With my internship coming to a close, I can confidently say that I’m no longer scared of talking about death in any shape or form. That’s also in part as to why I wanted to reassure you that it doesn’t need to be scary, even if it’s a little unpleasant. Regardless of your age, health, or faith, if you’re surrounded by family and friends or even find yourself alone, by thinking about your legacy, you can shift so many important things into perspective while minimizing things that aren’t as important as you once thought.

What matters most is remembering our time is finite. What’s stopping you from making the most of it, especially if that meant extending the life you brought into this world beyond your lifespan?

Josefina Jarosova is currently a Digital Media student at the University of Stirling in Scotland with a focus on writing and media production. She spent her summer 2018 internship with OneWorld Memorials as a junior copywriter and social media manager, assisting the company with their digital media presence and creative content production.

Anthony Magestro is a marketing and entrepreneurial consultant and founder of Roc Feather Media. Passionate about helping empower people to do what they love with the life they have -- whether in work or their personal lives -- he's currently the acting blog editor for OneWorld Memorials.