By Rachael Freed, LICSW, LMFT
As we accept the blessings and the sacredness of our lives,
then surely death, an integral part of life, must be sacred too.
Women’s spirituality is interwoven with the beginnings of life:
carrying, bringing, nurturing and protecting life. So too we
embrace the end of life. Women are caregivers and comforters of the
dying and the mourners.
Yet death and dying are taboo subjects. When we look back at Jacob
of Genesis, we find no such secret or silence. After Jacob blessed
his sons, he wrested a vow from them: bury him not in Egypt, but
return his body to the family’s ancestral burial place in
It should be as natural for us to address death in our legacy
documents as it was in biblical times, but it’s not. I searched
historical literature and Western culture looking for a feminine
voice to guide us, a woman who dared to break the silence, to speak
the truths that others feared even to whisper. Investigating recent
times, I found one, and she was just what the doctor ordered. In
her internationally-renowned first book, On Death and Dying,
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D., broke our society’s taboo of silence
about grief, death and the dying process. Time Magazine named her
one of the hundred greatest scientists and thinkers of the century.
What was revolutionary in 1969 is commonly accepted today: that
people who are dying are grieving and have lots to say about the
Using Kübler-Ross as our model is an apt memorial: a tribute to her
life and her work. She died August 24, 2004. Although her
well-known stages of dying may not accurately describe everyone’s
experience, her legacy was instrumental. She gave us a new
perspective. She liberated our voices about accepting the normality
of death as a part of life.
Today, thanks to Kübler-Ross, it is normal and natural to consider
our own deaths and to communicate to our loved ones about this
reality. One day we will no longer be on earth with them in the
form we have today. Marrying the ethical will of biblical tradition
with the medical work of a courageous twentieth century woman gives
us permission to reflect on and consider our own deaths, and how we
want to be treated, memorialized, mourned and remembered.
You may ask, “How does my death relate to my legacy?” It is in
recognizing our mortality that we find life precious. Acknowledging
death allows us to appreciate and live life more fully every day,
with awe and gratitude for our blessings. Consider the significance
of expressing this value as a part of your legacy. Here’s an
instruction: “Be grateful for your life; live every day as if it
were your last!” Unpalatable? Likely to be misunderstood as pious
or controlling? How about wording it then as a beautiful blessing?
“May you experience and appreciate the abundance of your life; may
you live every day to the fullest.”
This legacy is even more effective if you express it by the way you
live your life. Articulating your requests about having your life
end with dignity and respect demonstrates that you care enough
about yourself to ask to be memorialized in ways real and personal
and meaningful to you. It will teach by your living example that
your loved ones have lives and deaths that are precious too. What
better legacy can we leave future generations?
Sometimes acknowledging our mortality stimulates deep thinking,
consideration of life purpose and our need to have our lives make a
difference. But most of us, living our busy lives, don’t spend our
days contemplating death or how we want to be remembered. Yet you
know what you love about life and can use that knowledge to express
what you find precious and beautiful. That defines you as uniquely
as other values.
Excerpted from Chapter 4, "The Women’s Legacies Workbook
for the Busy Woman"
Copyright © 2005, Revised edition 2008 Rachael Freed
Who Needs a Will?
The Value of Reminiscing
Family Reorganization After a Loss
Also by Rachael Freed:
Creating a Legacy: Spiritual-Ethical Wills
Writing Your Legacy
Rachael Freed, LICSW, LMFT, is a
Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for
Spirituality and Healing. Her work empowering ordinary people to
document their legacies and create spiritual-ethical wills can be
accessed in her books,
Women's Lives, Women's Legacies: Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings
to Future Generations and The
Women's Legacies Workbook for the Busy Woman. More at www.life-legacies.com and 612-558-3331. A pioneer in
family-centered care in life-threatening and chronic illness, she
founded Minnesota's first hospital-based program for families of
the dying, and is the author of
Heartmates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart
resources for the emotional and spiritual recovery for families of
Image credit: allen reichert/Flickr Creative Commons