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Leaving a Psychological Legacy

A legacy is usually thought of as a gift of property or money. However, one does not have to have money or other assets in order to leave in legacy. One can leave a very powerful psychological legacy through the use of well-chosen words, small objects and actions.

I define psychological legacy as the emotional connection created when a person passes their essence onto others. The person receiving the legacy appreciates the emotional connection which often has an important, lasting and very positive impact on their life.

People ask “Who will care if I leave a legacy?” Well, you never know.

Recipients of the legacy maybe the very people you wanted to connect with. However, psychological legacy often impacts complete strangers, or descendants yet unborn. The giver may never know everyone who is affected by their legacy.

Sometimes the process is completely unconscious and unintentional, as it happened between my great-grandfather and me.

Here is how he left me his legacy. A few years ago while cleaning out a closet, I saw a long-neglected box from my grandmother’s estate. In the box was a postcard my great-grandfather had sent home to his family on May 6, 1916, in the middle of World War I. He served a soldier in the trenches on the Russian front. Up to this point the only thing I knew about him was that in peacetime he worked in a bank and enjoyed growing fruit trees.

On one side of the postcard was a photo of my great-grandfather with his soldiers in a trench, awaiting the enemy attack. On the other side I saw what he wrote to his daughter (my grandmother).

In a few sentences my great-grandfather asked my grandmother to study hard for her final examinations. After she was done with those he asked her to help her mother with everything she could, so her mother would not become sad and exhausted. Finally, he asked her to be obedient to her mother.

Upon reading the card, I felt as though my great-grandfather just kissed me on the forehead. He communicated his essence to me: an ancestor of mine who deeply loved his family, even as he stared death in the face every day.

I do not know how my grandmother reacted to this message because she is long gone. What I do know is my great-grandfather could never have expected to make a psychological connection with me, as I was not born yet, and never saw the card until 102 years later after he wrote it. And yet, what a powerful legacy he left me: to value, protect, guide and love my family even when I am afraid and my life is in danger.



“Leaving a Legacy” was published in the Fall 2018 Edition of PRIME TIME, a publication by Cape Cod Times newspapers.