Using This Pandemic to Create a Living Legacy

May 22, 2020
Lucina Kempel

Author: Dr. Lucina Kimpel, Associate Professor of Nursing

As we continue to endure during this pandemic, I reflect on the fact that this time will make an indelible mark in history. It will not be long until this period of shelter-in-place will be forgotten. People will want to forget this time and quickly try to return to "normalcy."

Sharing Life Stories

I was prompted to reflect on this issue after my attempt during spring break to see my 87-year-old mother-in-law, who lives in an assisted living facility. When my spouse and I arrived at the facility, they had just instituted a lockdown.

Since that time, she has been asked by her grandkids to write to them about her younger days and what life was like "back then." For her, until now, the indelible mark in history was life during the Great Depression. This reminiscence led her to also write to us about events from her youth. Her writings help her cope with her isolation by filling her time, giving her a purpose and helping her integrate her life events. For my spouse and me, it is exciting to hear about her earlier life. We can focus on something other than the pandemic; it's a nice break from sheltering in place.

Life Review

Considering the therapeutic value of this type of storytelling reminds me of an intervention in nursing: creating an ethical will/time capsule to capture life during this time. Ethical wills are often considered when people are near the end of their lives. They are used to pass on a legacy of life-lessons, values, blessings and hopes for the future.

In nursing, we use life review (a systematic process of recalling memories to find meaning and achieve resolution) as an intervention to help patients (usually at the end of their lives) articulate their life experiences. Sheltering in place presents an opportune time to think about life and what this indelible mark in history means to you and your family. How about taking this time to consider what we want to pass on to our kids? What about helping kids record this time in their lives for future reflection to share with their children?

Capture Your Legacy

You can easily create a COVID-19 time capsule to preserve your experience and the lessons you learned. Hopefully, this activity will spark meaningful family conversations, as it has for my family. Parents, consider making a copy for each of your children. Children, make sure you have a copy for yourself and one for your parents. My hope is for your family to create some meaningful memories and make a mark in your family history.