Considering My Legacy At This Stage In My Life

At my last book club meeting, we discussed When Breath Becomes Air by Dr. Paul Kalanithi. It’s the memoir of a resident doctor in his mid-30’s who explores the dance between medicine and philosophy against the backdrop of mortality and meaning. It was a book he started after his terminal diagnosis of lung cancer and finished shortly before he died. I enjoyed this thought-provoking, reflective piece of literature,  which was at times written at arms-length from the emotional baggage of impending death. It can be refreshing to talk about death that way – as in what can we learn from this thing we don’t know a whole lot about? While sitting in an intimate circle, the fireplace casting warmth, the 7 of us book club members spent a significant part of the evening on legacy.

I think about death and legacy a lot. I think this is largely because my mom passed away just before her 56th birthday. In fact, 9 years to this week, she was admitted to the hospital (for the second to last time). During our visit with her, my mom sat up in bed and told my brother and I she was sorry she wasn’t ‘leaving much’ for us. I’m sure we mumbled some reassuring words about how that wasn’t true but I honestly don’t remember the conversation going past that. Talking about her inevitable death made us uncomfortable even as the curtain of denial slowly slipped off the truth we needed to face.

What I would say to her now is that what she left us continues to show itself day after day, year after year. Her legacy lives on in the way I love my children, in the way our family continues to gather in good times and bad, in the way we support the hungry, in the way I dance around the kitchen. I see her in all those moments and more. While my memories of her come in snapshots and I now have to think really hard to remember her movements and the sound of her voice, what has never dulled are the intangible things.

Legacy and Writing

Legacy is also heavy on my mind because as a writer, I consider my work to be my literary footprint. The thing that will outlast me. Some people write their memoirs solely for that reason, and I encourage it in the classes I teach. Our articulated thoughts and ideas, and the way we affect one another, are all part of what we leave behind.

Thinking about our mortality is not morbid – it’s motivating. Admittedly, it’s not easy for most of us, but it truly can guide us to living our most meaningful lives. Throughout his book, Dr. Kalanithi shared how the decisions he made at each stage of his illness were all weighed against what was most meaningful to him at that time. Of course, he knew his life would be much shorter than what a healthy man his age could expect so there were probably a lot of things he threw out the window. When we don’t know how long we have to live, but can assume it’s a fair chunk of time, our options look different.

But maybe it’s not just about how long we have to live. Maybe it’s about how WIDE we want to. I’ve written before about wanting to live a wide life, not just a long one. These kinds of thoughts have always steered me toward a deeper satisfaction than anything I have ever chased mindlessly.

As a woman, a mother, entering her 40’s in just a few months, the lenses with which I see this world are changing a little. I’m excited by this shift. It’s helping me consider my legacy, define my values and fine-tune my goals. I’m embracing all of it and looking forward to the gems I will find along the way. Stick around – I’ll share more about my road to 40 as I tap my happy feet toward this new decade!

considering my legacy, my legacy, taslim jaffer writer,

What is something you hope will be part of the legacy you leave behind? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

taslim jaffer writer






14 thoughts on “Considering My Legacy At This Stage In My Life

    1. I first realized the ‘literary footprint’ thing when a young woman I know died in a car crash. I went to her celebration of life and there was a project that projected some of her tweets on one of the walls. I was like, yeah, EVERYTHING we put out there in words outlasts us.

  1. Wow. This post. I just read it twice and I feel like I need to read it again. I can’t even explain my emotions that were triggered right now but I think over over time, it might come to me. This is beautifully written, Taslim.

  2. Beautiful. “Mortality motivation” is what I’m most grateful for in my journey with breast cancer at the age of 40. My life as a result is completely different and I am purposeful in the legacies I want to leave behind.

  3. I loved this. What a thought provoking piece. I always think of legacy as what I will be remembered for after I am gone. No one is going to remember me for how many ppl I hired ( my day job is a recruiter/hr). But, I feel a sense of pride when I think that I will be remembered as Zara’s mother. She is my legacy.
    I write letters to my daughter on my blog and that’s my ‘literary footprint’ that I will be leaving for her.
    Beautifully written Taslim.

    1. Thank you so much, Husna, for reading. Your idea of writing letters to your daughter is so beautiful. And I bet you affect people in your day job, too. It’s surprising how a positive encounter with such a warm person can leave a lasting impression!

    1. Thanks, Mary. I always have. I mean, it’s wonderful to be able to leave behind material things and money for those who would need it. Donating part of your estate to a charity can have a profound effect. But we can create our legacy while we are living, in the way we live around and with others. Thanks again, Mary.

  4. There’s a big lump in my throat after reading your post, Tee. Living a “wide” life, not just a long one is a brilliant way to describe how I want to live as well. A full and juicy life! I think all the time about how I want to be remembered and it definitely guides my thoughts and actions.

    1. A full and juicy life! Amen to that, sista! I think some #DeeAndTee adventures could add nicely to that 🙂 Thanks for the conversations, light/funny and deep/reflective. Have a great weekend with your family.

  5. I read your post this morning and came back to re-read it now.
    Having lost my mom (and my dad), I find myself relating and connecting to your words so deeply. When I feel like my mom’s voice is “slipping” from my memory I will listen to some recordings I have of her…it makes me happy and sad all at the same time.
    Though I hadn’t thought so much about my legacy, I do intensely focus on living my truth because having experienced so much loss I know this human experience is finite. I want to soak up as much love as I can while I am here, and leave as much love behind as I possibly can.
    Thank you for writing this beautiful post ?? I feel like reading it made my heart feel a few sizes.

    1. I have my mom recorded on my wedding video (when she was still healthy) and then a few years later when she was ill but happily engaging her tiny granddaughter. They are precious and also a little hard to watch. But I am so thankful I have them! Intently living your truth is such a beautiful thing to model for your kids, and the best way for you to live. You have definitely inspired me. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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