Oct. 1, 2010 — -- Not long ago I sat in a group of older adults. They were residents of an assisted living center where I visit each week. I had to smile when their conversation shifted from the french toast they'd had for breakfast to plans for their funeral services.
To some, it may have seemed depressing, but to these faithful seniors, it was no different than talking about the changing weather. Before long the conversation had taken another slight turn. What would they leave behind when they died?
It seems that many people try to avoid that question for much of their lives. The thing is, most older adults are not afraid to talk about death. That's especially true for those who believe they will be spending eternity with God. They know death is going to come eventually. No one escapes it. Not even billionaires. Not even Hollywood's A-list.
The 89-year-old woman sitting beside me in a wheelchair laughed heartily about her few remaining possessions. Like many older adults, she had already downsized several times over the last two decades. She had given away or sold most of the things she had accumulated over her long life. Now with a twinkle in her eye, she announced to the rest of us that by the time she died, there would be nothing left but a few tattered nightgowns and her false teeth.
Laughter broke out among the group of aging men and women. It was like an inside joke shared among old friends.
These frail older adults understand that preparing for eternity is not like packing for a long road trip. They know it's useless to try to stuff big-time fame or a bulging bank account into an oversized suitcase. The day will come when every material thing you own will be left behind.
It raises the question. Though you can't take earthly possessions with you when you die, is there something that will trail behind you on your life's final journey? What will follow in the wake of your life? One thing I'm sure of, it won't be a Louis Vuitton bag on wheels.
In many ways, it all comes down to this: How well have you loved?
In the last days of your life, friends and family will not gather around your bed and discuss what kind of car you drove or the square footage of your home. They will likely look back on their relationship with you and answer these questions in their own minds. How well did you love them? How well did you love others? Did you take time to listen, to play with them, to encourage them? Did you point them to the One who created life itself?
Most likely, they will recall simple moments lifted out of time. Laughter around the dinner table. Impromptu backyard baseball games. Stories told and retold about ordinary life.
The truth is, everyone leaves behind a legacy of some kind. The question is what kind of legacy you will leave. At this very moment, you are creating a legacy by the choices you make. By the way you treat neighbors and strangers. By how you spend your money and your time. By who or what you put your faith in.
When the laughter died down, the conversation among the older adults continued with a more serious tone. They agreed that, in many ways, aging well is about learning to let go of earthly things and clinging to God alone. It was clearly evident that they each understood that their legacy will not be etched in marble or printed in a lengthy obituary. Their real legacy is what they have invested in the lives of others.
People often experience a disconnect between what they want to leave behind and the actual choices they make over time. The good news is that just thinking about your legacy today can inspire you to make positive changes. You can create the legacy you have always intended to leave.
In heaven there will be no clickety-click of luggage being rolled along streets of gold, but there will be a fragrance that will trail behind you long after you are gone. Now's the time to decide just what it will be.
Missy Buchanan is an author and columnist who has written books such as "Living With Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults" and "Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms."You can follow her here.