Iris Mini: Making Meaning, Understanding Values, and Creating a Legacy

A cancer diagnosis can prompt reflection on what is most important and meaningful. The experience of cancer can be quite vulnerable. Sometimes, the possibility and uncertainty around not being a part of important life events in the future can be quite overwhelming.

When people think of “leaving a legacy” they often think of the end of their lives; however, legacy work is not specifically about death and dying, but rather about life, living, and making connections with important people in your life. It allows for reflection on your life, values, and what makes you you.

Legacy work can be a powerful tool both for you, and also for those you love and care about. It is a reminder of who you are, what you love, what is important to you, and your contributions throughout your life. Some legacy pieces are collected over a lifetime and others are created in short time. They can take many forms: material (inheritance), personal value (photos, memorabilia), communication (letters, videos), and beyond – there are no limits to the ways you can create a legacy. There is no right or wrong way to do legacy work.

Reflecting on Values, Meaning, and Advice

When considering what kind of legacy you want to create and impart to those you care about most, it can be helpful to think about, talk through with someone you trust, and/or write about what is most important to you. What meaning, values, purpose, and wisdom do you wish to share?

Here are some questions that may prompt further thought and discussion:

  • What are some of the most important lessons you learned in your life?

  • What kind of advice do you offer about relationships?

  • What kinds of advice do you have about raising children?

  • Difficult or stressful experiences can teach important lessons. Is that true for you? Can you give examples?

  • Do you see any turning points, key events, or experiences that changed the course of your life?

  • What would you say you know now about living a happy and successful life that you didn’t know when you were younger?

  • What advice would you give to people about growing older?

  • What would you say are the major values or principles that you live by?

  • When you look back on your life and upbringing, what are the most significant events, memories, relationships, traditions, etc., that have made the greatest impact on who you are today?

  • What are the meaningful activities, roles, or accomplishments that make you proud?

Legacy-Building Activities

All of these can be done alone and/or with others to build memories:

  • Scrapbooks - photos, keepsakes related to a specific time or loved one or favorite place

  • Collection of recipes

  • Collection of daily inspiration notes

  • Blanket made from special fabric or favorite clothes

  • A life review worksheet

  • A list of rituals or traditions you enjoy during certain holidays and how to do them

  • Art

  • Doing a craft together that can be kept - such as jewelry, quilting, painting a picture, plaster casting of hands, etc.

  • Video or audio recording or written message - this could be advice, cherished memories, family history stories, favorite foods, what makes you laugh

  • Cards written or gifts purchased for a future birthday, holiday, or special occasion

  • Specific songs, books, poems, or pictures selected for your loved one(s) - this could be a playlist or a list of things to read or experience at different times in life, along with why you chose each one

  • Recording your voice telling a story, singing a song, or reading a poem

  • Taking family photos or videos

This is only a short list of all the possible legacy activities. An Iris mental health therapist can help you to think about what kind of legacy is right for you.