Leaving a Legacy: Connecting Past, Present, & Future

A legacy.

I was recently asked to speak on the topic of leaving a legacy for our Mothers of Preschoolers group, and though I’ve been a family historian for many years, I’ve been stumped at what exactly to say. Until my husband’s grandfather’s funeral this week.

People pay their respects at Grandpa Potter's visitation, January 22, 2017, as images of his life play in the background Photo Credit: Kimberly Saunders Randall  

People pay their respects at Grandpa Potter's visitation, January 22, 2017, as images of his life play in the background Photo Credit: Kimberly Saunders Randall  

I watched for hours as family and friends filed in and paid their respects to my husband’s grandmother and their five sons at the visitation. I spent time with extended family. I listened to the stories shared at his funeral service, sang Grandpa’s favorite hymns he himself had picked, listened to his favorite Scripture passages, and cried along with everyone else, because even though I’ve only been a part of this family for ten years, he was like a grandpa to me, too.

Not only did I get to hear those stories and visit with so many family members, we also got to visit together in the hospital and in the nursing home in the weeks leading up to his passing. We cried and joked, just like Grandpa, who throughout his funeral service was noted for his sense of humor. And when I hugged Grandma and told her, “He was like a grandpa to me, too…and you’re my grandma,” she hugged me back and said, “You’d better believe it!”

This is a legacy. When your family cries at your passing and your funeral because they miss you so much, because you meant so much to them, but they show each other so much love at the same time because you taught them how. Grandpa Potter, together with Grandma, taught the Potter family how to love one another. For his entire life, and through sixty-two years of marriage, they taught their family how to love.

Not too long ago I had a similar experience on my side of the family. In March, just ten days after her 95th birthday, my great-great aunt passed away in her sleep surrounded by family. Aunt Betts never married and never had any children, unlike Grandpa Potter, but she too left a legacy of love. She spent every holiday with our side of the family. She joked with us, too, she played cards with us, she watched sports with us, went on trips with us, and laughed with us. She didn’t have any biological children of her own, but her funeral too was filled with family and friends, people to whom she had left a legacy.

Aunt Betts with her great-great-great niece and nephew. 2015. 

Aunt Betts with her great-great-great niece and nephew. 2015. 

And as I sat at both funerals, I was grateful that I had spent time with the both of them. I was grateful that my children had spent time with both of them. I was grateful that my children will have memories years down the road of their great-grandfather on Daddy’s side and their great-great-great aunt on Mommy’s side. I was grateful that they reap the benefits of the legacies these two left them.

Cousins placing a rose on their great-grandfather's gravestone 

Cousins placing a rose on their great-grandfather's gravestone 

And it made me think, how much more intentional I want to be to instill in them the importance of family, and loving their family. How much more intentional I want to be in spending time with family, making time for family, listening to our family stories, and sharing our family stories. When you invest in your family, you invest in love, you invest in your legacy. We may have lost two of our family’s connections to the past, but both Grandpa Potter and Aunt Betts invested in the future. And because we spent time with them, because we listened to them and their stories, we have brought the past to the future. Because our youngest generations knew their elders, they bring their memory with them and get to pass it down. As my sister-in-law was hugging her grandmother at the funeral, I heard her tell her, “Remember him.”

We will. We will remember him, and we will pass his memory down. His legacy will live on. 

Grandma & Grandpa Potter with my children, two of their 13 great-grandchildren, 2015. 

Grandma & Grandpa Potter with my children, two of their 13 great-grandchildren, 2015.