Reaching Out and Making Connections: What Will People Say About You When You’re Gone?

July 31, 2012  |  

I hadn’t heard of writer Erica Kennedy, but I’d seen her title Bling on the shelf at Barnes & Noble a few times. Still, having only heard her name in reference to her June passing, I was taken by the number of requiems penned by fellow woman-writers in her honor, most of whom had never met her face to face. The memories were similar in that each written memoriam agreed that Kennedy was mentor to many and a connector of women who, in some fashion, had demonstrated promise in the realm of writing and publishing. All agreed that she was witty and sharp, but most of all, Erica Kennedy was remembered as an encourager.

This made me wonder about the legacies we leave. This was not the first time, however. During Whitney Houston’s funeral in February, a friend tweeted, “Who will speak at your funeral, and what will they say?”

In late-March, a co-worker of mine passed unexpectedly. In the days after the staff received word of the terrible news, we moved around each other in the halls, pressing our lips together and raising our cheeks in contrived acknowledgement and grief. As I placed my lunch in the break room refrigerator the following week, I had to push a Diet Pepsi out of the way. I wondered if it belonged to my deceased co-worker, a man whose penchant for the drinks became the stuff of office folklore. Did he have any food left in the fridge or freezer? I thought about how this simple sign of life turned into a striking reminder of how frail and fleeting our moments can be.

My officemates and I were rows deep in the sanctuary of a catholic church the following Monday, offering support to the grieving family and to each other at the funeral. Throughout the church were emblems of the departed’s life outside of the office: the youth athletic teams he coached (both current players and alumni), old friends, co-workers from past professional lives, and members of a tight-knit family, all of whom had faces flushed with shock and sorrow, all of whom spoke highly of their coach, colleague, and loved one. I thought about how much this said about his legacy.

The question of legacy hit home once again when, in the wee hours of July 20, twelve moviegoers were killed in the theatre tragedy in Aurora, Colo. Among them was Jessica Ghawi, an aspiring sports journalist whose social media prowess prompted her to post an essay about narrowly missing the gunfire at a Toronto mall the month prior to attending the fateful midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado. The message she shared with her blog readers: “…every moment we have to live our [lives] is a blessing.”

It seems that we work hard to be somebody in this world, to be seen, to be “important,” as if our titles and toys mean anything really. What we can learn from all of this is that what matters are our connections, real and digital — reaching out to others, using our stories for good, and being an encourager and a mentor. It’s about using our platforms and positions for good and not just for gain. It’s a cliché because it’s true: you can’t take it (the spoils, the toys, the titles) with you. Whether online or in real life, our connections are lasting relics of our spirits. What remains are memories of your encouragement, your belief and your passion for someone and something other than yourself.

Readers, what do you hope is part of your legacy? Who will speak at your funeral, and what will they say?

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