The Legacy I Live and Leave Matters

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“Today I shall behave as if this is the day I will be remembered.” Dr. Seuss

In the wake of his dad’s death in April, my husband John reminded me a legacy can just as easily be negative as positive. He said, “I’m my dad. I’m overweight, I have a bad attitude, and I blame others and feel sorry for myself when things don’t go my way.”

He was being especially hard on himself and his dad that evening. However, what he was experiencing and expressing is exactly what happens when we face death. After our goodbyes and burying the people we love, we’re left with whatever they left us – an inheritance or debt; the work of cleaning out their stuff; what they willed us or didn’t will us; what they gave to others that we didn’t get; what we got that someone else thinks they should have; the pain of family turning against one another; the fear we’ll turn too.

Mostly, we’re left with their legacy – the one we inherit even if they didn’t leave us money or goods.

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I thought about Dad’s legacy this past Sunday, August 13th on the twelfth anniversary of his death. Dad and I were estranged the final three years of his life. If I’d had a Fitbit back then, I would have exceeded every step goal walking back and forth to my upstairs bathroom window that overlooked our driveway, looking for his truck to pull in one more time.

I recognize now that Dad loved hard, took things hard when he was hurt by people, and acted hard towards them afterwards. I understand more about his response when I wished him a happy 70th birthday and he said, “I hope the next 70 are better.” I figured out some about why driving eight blocks to my house was too difficult for him and why him saying “I’m sorry” seemed impossible.

In light of his legacy and the one left by John’s dad too, I’ve pondered a question I heard at a women’s conference. The speaker talked about working with survivors of sexual abuse. I wrote about it here, “Whose Legacy Are You Living?” She said it helped to ask the women something like, “Whose legacy are you living, your abuser’s or yours?”

I was pretty sure I could answer for John and me. We’re living the legacies of our fathers.

Dad struggled with family relationships and with having friends. He struggled with self-esteem and self-doubt. He struggled to get over being hurt and sad.

Dad also painted, made pottery, and wrote love letters to us. One he wrote to me a couple of months after I was born is taped in my baby book. He played board games with me when I begged. He collected oriental figurines, he added to my doll collection, and he accumulated unusual postage stamps. Dad oversaw building a house for his mom, remodeled the house we lived in, and talked about buying and fixing up a beach house.

He bought a motel and opened an ice cream parlor after he returned from Vietnam that marked his retirement from the Air Force. He walked, rode his bike, and jumped rope in our backyard. A couple of times a week, he’d put on boots with metal hooks on the toes and, to improve his blood flow, he’d hang upside down from a bar he mounted between two trees. I’d watch him from the kitchen window. Dad read the Bible cover-to-cover at least twice. He crafted lanterns and planters to give away and built a toy box for each of his four grandchildren.

 

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I didn’t have to go on and on here, listing every memory of Dad that’s good and fun and quirky, but I wanted to. It reminds me how much our daily choices matter, just like my friend told her dad when he was dying alone and lonely. On his deathbed, he asked her, “How’d I get here?”

“Thousands of bad choices, Dad,” she said. It was all she could think to tell him. Their conversation haunts me, but hopefully it saved him like the thief who hung by Jesus on the cross. In the last minutes, his legacy changed.

So, here’s the thing about a legacy – we leave one, good or bad, whether we intend to or not. There are qualities from both of our dads we hope to keep alive, and ones we don’t.

Here’s another thing about legacy – it matters. John and I gave voice to this when we recognized how much our dads’ legacies shaped us, even our body shape, our weight.

The final thing about legacy – we decide.

Each one of us has been influenced by someone, but we’re not destined to live how they lived. We decide whose legacy we’re living – a parent, an abuser, a mentor. We decide whether we’ll live out their difficult ways or their productive and creative ones. We decide if we want to ditch everything they modeled and live differently. We decide whether to be sloppy about our own legacies or intentional.

I knew I’d inherited my dad’s creative spirit even though I hadn’t given him credit for my painting and writing until just now. He definitely passed on his appreciation for homes and remodeling them. I’ve enjoyed collecting things most of my life like artwork and shoes (a justifiable collection, I think). I started walking daily when I was pregnant with our son and kept it up for nearly three decades. It never crossed my mind until writing this, though, that I’d taken on Dad’s melancholy mood.

Legacy. We leave one. It matters. We decide on our own.

Whose legacy are you living? Is it one you want to keep going?

#gettingyourownlife #whilelovingthepeopleinit

In This Together,
Kim

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18 responses »

  1. You gave us all something to think about and be aware of with these wise words. They were beautiful and thought provoking! 💓

    • Thanks so much, Debbie! ❤ Writing the post gave me a lot to reflect on. I started and stopped it several times before I actually published it. I had no idea how much of Dad's legacy I was living out, especially the creative parts.

  2. I am awed when I read your stuff, Kim. Hadn’t really given much thought to legacy; maybe because my parents are still with us (in their 90s!) Certainly haven’t thought about my own legacy. It’s a good question to ponder…

    • Really, Natine? Both of your parents are still alive? That’s really cool and what a “legacy” to live that long. What anniversary are they celebrating? I may have seen something about that on your page or on Shel’s.

      I’ve thought about legacy ever since it was brought up at the conference. It’s funny how something like that sticks with you FOREVER. Even before that, I heard someone say they asked a group of 90-year-olds what they’d do differently if they could live their lives all over again. They said three things: risk more, reflect more, and leave something of lasting value, a legacy. ❤ I'm listening.

  3. From Facebook (Kim Henson) ~

    Michele Messer, Julia Zimmerman Corontzes and 51 others

    7 shares

    Nancy Allen Purvis Beautifully written!!!
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 12:12am

    Kim Henson Awe, thanks, Nancy Allen Purvis. ❤ I appreciate you reading and leaving a comment.
    Like · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 12:25am

    Erika Mason Love this Kim so very true!
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 12:54am

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Erika Mason! ❤
    Like · Reply · August 18 at 12:33pm

    Gail Altman Kim, thank you sharing your gift of expressing. Thought provoking. I do think about this at my age, but really it's any age since many die young. I'm tagging a friend who also is writer. If you don't know each other, you may enjoy reading each other's talent. Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 3:05am

    Kim Henson Gail Altman, you're right. This is important at any age. I didn't slow down enough when I was younger to think about it, though. I'm happy to be doing that now. I appreciate you introducing me to Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore. I read one of her posts and it was funny, as well as inspirational. ❤ Thanks so much for your comment!
    Like · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 12:35pm

    Perry Tesh I absolutely love this !
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 6:55am

    Kim Henson Thanks bunches, Perry Tesh! ❤ I appreciate it.
    Like · Reply · August 18 at 12:36pm

    Barbara Suggs A great share…
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 7:13am

    Kim Henson Thank you, Barbara Suggs! ❤ It helped me to write it.
    Like · Reply · August 18 at 12:37pm · Edited

    Michele Messer Very moving, Kim. I enjoyed reading this very much! ❤
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 7:28am

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Michele Messer! I appreciate your comment. ❤
    Like · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 12:37pm

    Mary Sharon Fite Kim this was wonderful to read. To think you were Bennetts kindergarten teacher. You left many memories over many little ones.
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 7:42am

    Kim Henson Awe, thank you, Mary Sharon Fite! ❤ He was one cute and sweet little boy to teach! Thanks for stopping by.
    Like · Reply · August 18 at 12:38pm

    Mary Sharon Fite Kim Henson sent a picture of family — Bennett is tallest guy on the beach family picture
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 10:02pm

    Kim Henson Mary Sharon Fite, wait, I didn't get it, but I saw one on your page that I already commented on. It is wonderful. The one in the white shirts and jeans? If so, I saw it and LOVED it! ❤ Nice looking kids and grandkids (yes?). I know you're proud.
    Like · Reply · August 20 at 1:07am

    Sybil Lee Thank you so much for your honesty. I can see I need to answer some questions
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 7:43am

    Kim Henson I need to answer some too, Sybil Lee. You're leaving a wonderful legacy of giving back. ❤
    Like · Reply · August 18 at 12:40pm

    Sarah Koper Clayton Love this!!!
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 7:53am

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Sarah Koper Clayton! ❤
    Like · Reply · August 18 at 12:40pm

    Angie Cruz Healy Beautiful!
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 8:01am

    Kim Henson Thank you, Angie Cruz Healy! ❤
    Like · Reply · August 18 at 12:40pm

    Julia Zimmerman Corontzes Thank you Kim. Enjoyed reading this !!
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 8:17am

    Kim Henson Thanks for reading and commenting, Julia Zimmerman Corontzes! ❤
    Like · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 12:40pm

    Peggy New Best one ever …. ever.
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 8:44am

    Kim Henson Oh, wow, thanks, Peggy New! You know first hand about the legacies your kids left. ❤ I had a glimpse into the one Rebecca left and it was touching. It makes me think more about my own.
    Like · Reply · August 18 at 12:42pm

    Tammy James Quinn This is great Kim! Thank you for sharing! ❤
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 9:11am

    Kim Henson Thanks, Tammy James Quinn! ❤ I learned a few things myself.
    Like · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 1:03pm · Edited

    Debbie Stewart Richardson OhMy! Thank you for that jolt! Gotta read that again…….🤔
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 10:40am

    Kim Henson Debbie Stewart Richardson, it jolted me when I wrote it. Sometimes these posts take me by surprise. Thanks for your comment! ❤
    Like · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 1:02pm

    Debbie Stewart Richardson We are there & the love we have for our grands makes us wanna be the best we can be!
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 1:22pm

    Kim Henson Debbie Stewart Richardson, I sure understand! ❤ How many do you have?
    Like · Reply · August 20 at 1:07am

    Delilah Lewis You are a beautiful writer, don't ever stop. Love you❤️
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 10:42am

    Kim Henson Thank you, sweet Delilah Lewis! ❤ I'm so happy you're back. I love you!
    Like · Reply · August 18 at 1:02pm

    Lauren Henson Powerful message!
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 11:23am

    Kim Henson Thanks for reading and for your comment, Lauren Henson! ❤
    Like · Reply · August 18 at 1:03pm

    Karen Dishman Jantzi Beautiful!!!
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 11:42am

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Karen Dishman Jantzi! ❤
    Like · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 1:03pm

    Frances Dennis And you matter in my life!
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 12:31pm

    Kim Henson I love you, Frances! ❤ Thank you.
    Like · Reply · August 18 at 1:04pm

    JoAnn Durgin Great post! Legacies are so important (especially the older we get). I don't think any of us slowed down when we were younger to think about it. I talk about the legacy we leave in a lot of my books. Thank you for sharing. 🙂
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 12:43pm

    Kim Henson Thank you, JoAnn Durgin! ❤ I just wrote the same thing in one of my comments – I didn't slow down to think. I just did the next load of laundry. 😉 I'm grateful I have time now to reflect. I don't read fiction often, but I want to read one of yours.
    Like · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 1:07pm

    JoAnn Durgin I mentioned legacies in the trailer I did for my new one but my longest-running series IS called The Lewis Legacy Series for a reason. 😉
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 1:15pm

    Kim Henson JoAnn Durgin, I love that!
    Like · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 1:22pm

    Jean Steen I love it when I read something that really makes me Stop and Think!! Reading this from you this morning did both of those things! Thanks for sharing, Friend!!!
    Love · Reply · 2 · August 18 at 12:44pm

    Kim Henson Thanks bunches, Jean Steen! ❤ Writing it made me stop and think. I really appreciate your comment.
    Like · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 1:08pm

    Jackie Waters Miles Sitting w my Mother in her last days and have thought of this also.
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 4:40pm

    Kim Henson Jackie Waters Miles, I keep checking on you via your FB page. I know it's tough. I love you! ❤ And I'm praying for y'all.
    Like · Reply · August 20 at 1:09am

    Summer Turner Insightful, thoughtful, and heart opening, Kim. ♡
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 18 at 11:09pm

    Kim Henson I love "heart opening," Summer Turner. Thank you! ❤
    Like · Reply · 1 · August 20 at 1:09am

    Liza Kendall Christian 💙
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 19 at 12:04am

    Kim Henson Thank you, Liza Kendall Christian! ❤
    Like · Reply · 1 · August 20 at 1:09am

    Susan Blanton Roche Very powerful and I appreciate you sharing so much of yourself! This made me think deeply about my legacy to my children ❤
    Love · Reply · 2 · August 19 at 11:03am · Edited

    Kim Henson Thanks for your encouragement, Susan Blanton Roche. Sometimes I think I share too much about myself, but it's the only story I have. 🙂 You're leaving a wonderful legacy! ❤ I love seeing y'all together and making memories. It's heartwarming.
    Like · Reply · 1 · August 20 at 1:12am

    Mary Lou Anderson Eddings Kim, my parents were very young when they died, my daddy 50 and my mom 2 years later at age 52. There was tragedy in our family life and pain and regret, however I have made a point of remembering the times in my childhood when life was a celebration,…See More
    Love · Reply · 2 · Yesterday at 12:36am

    Kim Henson Mary Lou Anderson Eddings, a wooden ironing board – what an impression that had to leave. It's funny what changes our perspective and our lives, isn't it? I think that would have done it for me too. I didn't get anything material when my parents died, …See More
    Like · Reply · 1 · Yesterday at 1:16am

  4. From Facebook (S. Kim Henson) ~

    Mikey Hough, Laura Ann Pierce and Joy Thomas Floramo

    Joy Thomas Floramo Makes one think!
    LikeShow more reactions · Reply · Message · 1 · August 18 at 1:46pm

    S. Kim Henson It was a wake up call while I was writing it, Joy Thomas Floramo. Thanks for stopping by! ❤
    LikeShow more reactions · Reply · August 19 at 10:46pm

    Mikey Hough Haven't seen your writings in a long while. You really got the words right on this.
    LikeShow more reactions · Reply · Message · 1 · August 18 at 6:48pm

    S. Kim Henson Thanks so much, Mikey Hough! ❤ I have high hopes for writing consistently one of these days.
    LikeShow more reactions · Reply · 1 · August 19 at 10:47pm

  5. From Facebook (Rebecca Barnes-Hogg’s page) ~

    Rebecca Barnes-Hogg shared your post.
    August 19 at 5:37pm ·
    Thought provoking and insightful blog from my friend, Kim Henson, about the legacy we live.

    Summer Turner, Marsha Novak and 5 others

    Kim Henson Thanks so much for reading and sharing, Rebecca Barnes-Hogg! ❤ I appreciate you.
    Like · Reply · August 19 at 10:48pm

  6. From Facebook (Stacy Garceau’s page) ~

    1

    1 share

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Stacy!
    Like · Reply · 1 · August 20 at 1:03am

    Stacy Garceau This was great.
    Love · Reply · 1 · August 20 at 7:42am

    Vanessa Cates Hurlburt Solid.

    Kim Henson Thanks, Vanessa.
    Like · Reply · Just now

  7. Kim, I think I missed a whole bunch of your posts during the worst part of my husband’s illness. I want to go back and reread them and hopefully comment because earlier it was just too hard to focus on anything long enough to leave a meaningful comment. Anyway, this was a very timely post for me to read because I thought a lot about the legacy Rich was leaving, and the one I want to leave. I sometimes think that a lot of Rich’s physical suffering was caused, at least in part, by the demons that he never dealt with. The worst part of my grief has to do with the fact that he died without ever confronting those and putting them to rest. It just wasn’t his nature to go deep as I have done. To a great extent, he drank himself to death to try to stifle those demons; “alcoholic cardiomyopathy” was a primary cause of death on the death certificate. That legacy, and what I couldn’t or didn’t do about it will haunt me to my grave. I’m still debating how I will write about that, because I know at some point I must in order to leave the legacy I want to. I didn’t mean to make this about me. It’s your on-point writing that does it to me every time. Thanks for continuing to make me go deep.

    • Mary, I wish every reader would make my posts about him/herself. That’s why I write, but sometimes I think I make it too much about me. I’m happy you get something out of what I put on paper, something that brings you back to yourself and takes you deeper.

      I’d love to talk you out of being haunted by Rich’s drinking and demon-killing habits because I don’t think there’s much any of us can do to save someone else. I think we have to save ourselves and hope it rubs off. I’ve watched you do this. I believe you did your part for the team. I really do. ❤

      I just read your latest blog post and admire you stepping out this soon to talk about Rich's death. I hope you'll keep writing because I need to hear what you have to say.

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