At the Beth El Mausoleum here in Boca Raton, Florida, as we help families make important decisions about final arrangements we often hear snippets of memorable stories from their lives or the lives of the deceased. Yet, many of them have not taken the time to document their life history or any family history of their ancestors that they then may one day carry to the grave.
There are many things that we can do to add this to part of our estate planning. Other important tasks should include detailing our final wishes, preparing advance healthcare directives and writing a last will and testament. Without these documents, family and medical personnel have to speculate as to what their loved one would have wanted. It may sound like a lot to do, but thanks to the help of professionals in their fields, most are easily accomplished and are always a weight off our shoulders.
Everything We Say at Funerals Should Be Said at Birthday Parties
There are of course two certainties that have to do with the legacy we leave behind… the material items vs the memories.
The phrase “you can’t take it with you” refers of course, to material goods. We all know that in the end, no matter how prosperous we have become, the material items we held so dear in life, no longer will have any meaning to us once we have passed away. We can bequeath them to the next generation or a charity – but unless we specifically request a small item to be included in our casket or crypt, it is not coming with us.
Something that really resonated for us here at the Beth El Mausoleum was a profound quote we stumbled upon while researching this topic: “Everything we say at funerals should be said at birthday parties, instead we leave so much love unspoken” (@justmadhu via Twitter).
We encourage everyone to express not only their true feelings for their loved ones while they are alive, but to make sure they leave an anecdotal legacy to keep their memory alive as well. It need not be long – it just need be meaningful.
The Stories We Leave Behind
What is undoubtedly true – is that if we take our life stories to the grave, our family history can be forever lost. These details are part of our family roots, which if not written down, are difficult to uncover the specifics over time.
The background information we know about our ancestors, as well as our own life tales prior to our children or grandchildren being born, just might be some of the most important possessions we have to pass along to our family. It is possible we never told them, or perhaps they were not of interest when our descendants were young.
However, after we are gone the reality might sink in and not having asked for these anecdotes may cause disappointment and regret for our descendants. Thoughts may come to mind such as… “I regret not asking my mother more about her grandparents” or “I should have asked my grandfather about his experience coming to America.”
According to My Jewish Learning, which covers this topic in detail, Rabbi Daniel Cohen, the author of “What Will They Say About You When You’re Gone? Creating a Life of Legacy,” has counseled many bereaved people who wished they had interviewed their elders before it was too late. Judaism places a high value on these conversations, not just about what an elderly person knows but what they have experienced,” said Rabbi Cohen.” He adds, “It’s also part of the Jewish oral tradition of passing knowledge, stories, and traditions from generation to generation — and without which there would be no Talmud.”
Some thought starters to help you gather helpful information is to go through photo albums and home movies to jog memories that you may wish to elaborate about. Peruse family heirlooms you may have as well – they hold valuable historical relevance.
An online visit to the many genealogy websites like Ancestry.com or perhaps one dedicated to Jewish genealogy like jewishgen.org can provide a wealth of information. It also might provide some unexpected discoveries. Another option to glean some helpful or interesting information is to take a DNA test.
The Last Living Connections
Of course, nothing compares to the story coming directly from those who lived it or knew the details directly, and that is why if you have any elderly relatives, they may be the last living connections to a past you are not as familiar with. Now is the time to ask, before it is too late. All of this will help you build a family tree for your descendants to add their own branches and stories when the time comes.
Should you want to take it a step further, it may be enjoyable to write your own memoir or hire a memoir writing service like StoryTerrace, Real Life Stories, Storyworth, and many others that specialize in life stories.
They have professional writers available who will interview you and guide you or ghostwrite it for you based on the information you provide. You can also hire a writer privately to help you document your life history. Simply search online for this topic in order to choose the company or professional that best suits your needs.
You might also want to choose to have someone create a video life story interview that you can provide digitally for your family or simply put up your own smartphone on a tri-pod and record it. That is a very lovely way to bring the stories to life while seeing and hearing you at the same time. It is more personal and can be very touching and comforting at the same time. Again there are companies online to select from such as Family Legacy Video, The Video Biography Company and more.
Detailing everything that happened in your life is not necessary. Certain information might be too personal or controversial, and the storyteller may wish to leave it out. There is nothing wrong with that – it is a private decision as to what recollections each person would like to leave for the next generation. Of course, the truth should be paramount – fictional accounts of the past can be harmful rather than helpful. It is also best to be sure that you think twice before sharing anyone else’s personal information without asking permission – as sometimes well-meaning stories about others may not be appreciated.
Generally, documenting the highlights such as births, marriages, military service, career or employment, memorable vacations or events, or special occasions are the most relevant. For some of us, this is just an interesting topic, for others this information could enlighten us about genetic medical history or open doors to discovering long lost relatives we might like to get to know. It could help us understand ourselves better and the talents and traits we may display.
So yes, as solemn or perhaps even tedious the tasks of getting our affairs in order and planning final arrangements may be, a more uplifting part can be the time we spend taking that trip down memory lane to make sure our family tree stands the test of time. We all know our future is unpredictable, and our past could be lost forever. What better time to think about taking care of all of these important steps that once completed, will allow you the time to enjoy your life each day going forward.
Wishing everyone a very Happy and Healthy New Year from the Beth El Mausoleum and Temple Beth El of Boca Raton. May you continue to make many wonderful memories at this time and in the future.
- @justmadhu via Twitter