By Susan Kurlander, M. Ed.
“There is no greater gift we can give our loved ones than the knowledge and understanding of who we are, what we represent and what are our hopes for future generations.” (Riemer, J., & Stampfer, N. 1983. Ethical Wills: A Modern Jewish Treasury.) Although this ideal sounds lofty, until the pandemic struck, we as parents and grandparents could achieve this goal on a regular basis. Through teachable moments, holiday gatherings, life cycle celebrations, vacation experiences, and more, we could easily share with our loved ones words of praise, concern, and love that indicated the values and beliefs that are important to us.
Now, because of social distancing, our children and grandchildren’s overwhelming schedules, or simply the challenges of the pandemic, we feel we have lost control of the connection that binds us together as families. One way to maintain and sustain that connection is the creation of an ethical legacy — a long-lasting reminder of how we have chosen to live our lives and how we hope those choices resonant for our families.
An ethical legacy can be created in many ways, from the written word to an audio or video taping to the description of a family heirloom or artifact that has shaped your values and actions through the years. There are four parts to the creation of an ethical legacy:
1) Brainstorming ideas
2) Writing a rough draft
3) Editing your ideas so they flow
4) Creating a final copy
There is no right or wrong way to do this; it is your individual and unique opportunity to share your past, present, and future choices and hopes with your family. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Consider what experiences and traditions have been important to you (ex. maintaining the rituals connected to your Jewish heritage)
- Mention the people who have had an impact on you and how that impact has helped to shape your values (ex. your father’s kindness to strangers)
- Describe challenges you have faced and how you have handled those challenges (ex. overcoming a disability)
- Talk about your failures, as well as your successes, and how those failures have helped you grow (ex. not getting a hoped-for job)
- List the values that have become the most important to you and how you arrived at those values (ex. being grateful for what has been given to you)
- Mention a time when you have forgiven someone or someone forgave you and why you remember that (ex. an argument with a sibling)
- Suggest your hopes for the future and the role your loved ones may play in what happens in years to come
Creating an ethical legacy takes time. What better time than now when we are limited as to where we can go, with whom we can spend time, and what we can do with the time that we do have. What we are not limited in doing is sharing how we want our loved ones to think of us certainly now and in the future.
Susan Kurlander, M. Ed., is a Health Educator at Jewish Community Services.
JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.