My mom was an English teacher who taught for several years in an inner-city school. Many of her eighth-grade students read on the third-grade level, and my mom said if she taught one child to read each year, it was a successful year. She taught many children to read, but that wasn’t her only achievement. Her friends and family repeatedly recalled her thoughtfulness and generosity, and I’m proud of the legacy she left.

Just like my mom, people we encounter through school, work, friendship, faith and community influence our lives. If you take the time to reflect on your own life, you will find that you, too, have many influencers who have shaped the person you have become; we all do.

But what exactly is a legacy and is it the same thing as an inheritance? An inheritance and a legacy are similar in that they are both passed down from generation to generation. An inheritance is material, however, while a legacy is intangible. Legacies are the contributions people make while they are alive – and what we remember about them after they die.

It’s unfortunate that many of us do not realize the impact a friend or loved one has on our life until their death. It took me many months after my friend Betsy died to fully understand the amazing influence she had on my life. I think of her often and lovingly, and I feel blessed to have been her friend.

I’ve recently begun to think about my own life and what I will leave behind. Not only my physical possessions and who may inherit them, but also what lasting memories will I leave and how will I be remembered?

As we begin the New Year with a clean slate and an empty calendar, each of us has an opportunity to choose how we will spend the next 12 months. What would we like our year to be? What legacy are we creating? How do we want to be remembered? What exactly will we leave behind?

These may be daunting questions but ones worth considering. How will others view our legacy? Is it one to be proud of? And if not, how can it be recast?

Each of us has the power to start the New Year on a positive footing and to keep it going. Let’s make 2015 a good one!

***

Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now at a reduced price for e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store.

Image via Wikimedia Commons, Amit Namdeo

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