Sorry for the hiatus; I'm back now. As you might have guessed from the series of #Dislocations posts, things have been happening: a family member transitioned from this life to ....
After a death, there seems to be so much to do: all the keeping track, the details, and the expectations. Then, there's feelings you have, plus the emotions experienced across a newly-created, but fleeting community of loss. And after that? Well, after that are memories and the question of legacy.
To me, living in and with legacy is not just about memory. When I think about how I would like to be remembered, I think about how the people who knew me will recall me, once in a while, in their heads. I think about how my presence will occasionally be felt -- even though I will be unseeable and untouchable. I think about what people will say: things I did, things I said. There will be good and bad; I know that I will have lived a "good life," but I also know that I will leave behind sore spots: the unresolved pain I have caused. That pain will be part of what some people remember. I think about fleeting images, the times they will hear my voice in their head, the occasional smell that formerly was my scent.
I call this memory. And I distinguish memory from legacy. Memory seems private. Memories do not usually grow; instead, they deepen as we remember more, change a little, and forget some. Memories can be altered; they are deceptive, personal, and often true only to and for the person who remembers. Occasionally, memories spur action: I have friends who say that the memory of "x" caused them to make a certain change in their lives. But for the most part, I think memory of as quiet and personal; it's the reflection of a bond that has been irrevocably changed.
Legacy, I think, operates differently. Memory is for people who knew the dead. Legacy is not necessarily so. I think of legacy as the structural and public expression of memory, plus a creation of desired memory. And that's the interesting part: the gap between the person who was and the person we as legacy-stewards create. I think of how a dead person continues to affect the lives of the living and also of the structures we put in place to make that possible.
In many ways, legacy can be programmatic. Some programmes fulfil the known wishes of the person who has died; some express what we think we knew; some articulate only what we wish were true. Some legacies are artistic and experiential. They create spaces in and with which others dwell. Some legacies are more than a park bench or building tile. They are what these things represent --legacy as the tender and hopefully, but impossibly neutral expression of social power and cultural capital. Legacy is riskier than memory; it reaches deep into our communities and touches the lives of people who did not know the dead.
I think we have a responsibility to decide carefully about legacy. I don't see legacy as a given, it's a choice. Do we create legacy or do we let the person live purely in memory? If we do, how do we create legacy without recreating the oppressive structures of charity? How do we create a legacy that is not about making us, the bereaved, feel good? In other words, for whom is this legacy? What would the person being "legacied" think about their representation? Would they even recognize themselves?
Once all the "thank you for coming" cards have been written (?! -- another one of those moments where manners matter). When all the arrangements have happened. If the mourning and grief are manageable. Now, the work begins.