Personal Legacy: Remembering and Being Remembered

haornblatt auf kieselsteinenSeveral years ago when I had returned to Ontario for my oldest daughter’s Memorial service, I had an opportunity to visit my elderly aunt in her retirement home in the small town of Elmira. Great visit! Of my late father’s nine siblings, she is the only one still alive.

I grew up in Elmira and my aunt had lived there all her adult life. So, in our conversation we reminisced about locals who had been important to either of us in the past. On the subject of teachers, most names and faces had faded away, save one in particular, my high school science teacher, Mr. Ernie Kendall. He got me interested in science and he told good stories. He was the only teacher who encouraged me to go on to university. I always had a sense he really cared about me. But that was over half a century ago.

Then my aunt dropped a bomb: “Ernie Kendall is still alive at 100 and he lives in the nursing care unit of this facility. He’s mentally out of it, so there’s not much point of visiting him, but he’s alive.” After goodbyes with my aunt, I went to see Mr. Kendall anyway.

He did appear to be “out of it,” that is, until I identified myself. He came alive immediately, greeted me and asked about me and my younger brothers, whom he also remembered teaching. We had a short but wonderful visit and I was able to thank him in person for what he had meant to me. What a gift! Mr. Ernie Kendall died a year and a half later at 101.

As I have reflected on why only one teacher from high school days stands out in my memory, I realize that the list of people I remember clearly are people who cared , people who made a difference in my life, people close to my heart.

Think about it. As you look back over your life, do you remember the people with the most prestigious credentials, the most money or the most accolades? Or like me, do you remember those souls who cared and made a difference to your life?

Anyone who has had to confront the reality of their mortality wonders about how they will be remembered after they’re gone. But the question needs to be taken a little deeper: “Will I be remembered at all?”

The point is that how you cared and loved and made a difference to others is not only what people will remember of you, but a principle factor in whether you will be remembered at all as time passes. That is your legacy to your family and community. Memories of your credentials and achievements fade quickly.

I invite you to take a few minutes to reflect on what you are building as your personal legacy.

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Dr. Neill Neill retired his psychology practice at the end of 2013. He maintains an active coaching practice via telephone or Skype with select clients dealing with alcoholic husbands or ex-husbands. Check out his book, Living with a Functioning Alcoholic: A Woman's Survival Guide.

5 thoughts on “Personal Legacy: Remembering and Being Remembered

  1. Wonderful article, Dr. Neill! This one really strikes a chord with me. About 5 years ago, unbeknowst to myself, a young girl portrayed me and my life in front of a group of 100 people. Most of the people were girls ages 12-18. I am so glad that I had lived in such a way that it was not embarrassing to be portrayed in front of these impressionable girls.

  2. Dear Dr. Neill:

    I am very sorry to hear that you lost a daughter. Your posts are extremely inspiring.

    God bless you.


  3. Hello Dr Neill.

    Loved you story and instead of how I will be remembered it got me thinking of the most important people in my life; my mom, dad, older brother and most of all my wife of 54 years who died of cancer yesterday. The funeral is on Monday and I am terrified even though I have my two wonderful daughters for support. After a few weeks I will be contacting you again for more consultation.


  4. Dear Al,

    I spoke with you at Dora’s funeral service, but I’m sure that day is a blur for you. I feel for you in your sad loss after all these years. Now that a few weeks have gone by and most others have got on with their lives, you may be at the lowest point in your grief. Please know that I’m with you in spirit.


  5. This is really a good message for all of us. Doing good for others can be rewarding, maybe not today, but for sure in the future. Sometimes, we must focus not only towards ourselves, dreams and achievements, but it is good to touch other people’s lives as well. It is definitely fulfilling.

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