Sadly, a colleague of mine recently passed away. She started with the company not long after I did. We worked closely together as I had recently been left as the only writer in my department after my former boss went to another company. She was immediately my confidant. I talked to her about anxieties I was having at being the only writer for the company, and she told me anecdotes about her experiences in the industry, assuring me that my work was great. I will always appreciate that.
The announcement of her passing went out to the company and, in lieu of a wake or funeral, the deceased asked to simply be cremated and laid to rest in peace. Our company made a donation to the Canadian Cancer Society / Freeport Hospital under our former colleague’s name, but I thought that we could pool our resources and create a lasting legacy document for her family. So, I sent out the following email:
As you may or may now know, I research palliative care narratives as part of my graduate work at UW. One of the most important things for dying patients is leaving behind a legacy, and similarly, a sense of legacy is comforting for dying patients’ friends and families.
That’s why, in lieu of a condolence card, I’d like you to contribute to a project that [X, a graphic designer] and I are putting together. In loving memory of [Y], we’re creating a legacy piece for her. It will be an artfully rendered booklet that will contain messages from anyone who wishes to contribute.
What I need from you is a message to [Y]’s family. This can be in the form of a narrative about [Y]—like any memories you have about her, final messages for her, or condolences for the family. Be creative; if you can’t think of a memory you want to share, how about something else that reminds you of her? Something you love that you’d have liked to share with her? What about something that you’d like to share with her family during a difficult time?
I can suggest a story, a psalm, a poem, or some lyrics. Or, for those who would like to send an artistic message, how about a photograph or a piece of art. Each of these submissions will be unique to you, be it something textual or artistic. Condolences are best offered soon after a family’s loss, so please email me with your contribution by Wednesday.
We completed the legacy piece today. It’s beautiful. Some staff submitted memories, some submitted psalms, some wrote poems, and one designer drew a portrait of [Y]. We printed 15 copies of these 6’x6’ booklets and will give them to our former colleague’s mother to disseminate to the family. [Y] would have liked this idea very much; she was a very thoughtful, kind, and caring woman.
Remember that one of the most important things for people is a sense of legacy. If you ask me, I believe it’s evolutionary—we innately seek a sense of leaving something behind after we die. If you’re in a situation dealing with a grieving friend, or if you are grieving, remember that creating a legacy piece would be profoundly important for that person. Drop me a line if you have questions or want some advice.