Leaving a Legacy

I was feeling a little apprehensive when I was first introduced to her 11+ years ago. My then boyfriend (now husband) told me that she was the retired chief medical social worker at a local restructured hospital, a fantastic cook, a strong personality, and a witty and dynamic lady. And I felt small in the presence of a person of such stature. But my nervousness soon dissipated because of her hospitality and warmth. In fact, one could hear her infectious laughter at the lift lobby before stepping into her apartment. She was the beloved Aunty Santha, my husband’s paternal aunt.

Sadly, Aunty Santha passed away last Saturday on April 7, 2012 at the age of 73. At her funeral the next day (Easter Sunday), my husband gave the eulogy and sang a song she had requested in a letter she penned just before she was hospitalized. She had sensed that she was on her final journey and had put her personal matters in order.

Aunty Santha was the head of the medical social work department and the pioneer in the IVF counseling in the early 1980s. When the press heard of her demise, they decided to pay tribute to her in the local newspapers. In the Straits Times article published the day after her passing, Aunty Santha was described as someone who was “all heart” and “unflinching” in speaking up for the underdog. It was widely known that she helped those in need out of her own pocket. She even nursed a foreign patient back to health in her own house even though the latter had a highly contagious skin disease.

In the eulogy, my husband shared three endearing traits about Aunty Santha:

  1. She believed in demonstrating love through action, not just words. Her compassion and concern were often expressed at great cost to her own resources of time, energy, convenience and even safety.
  2. She believed in family unity, and functioned as the glue of the family, particularly to her siblings.  Despite the physical discomfort (made worse through poor health) she would spend hours on her feet cooking up sumptuous meals over which the family would bond and reconnect.
  3. She believed in fun, and joked about the treatment she received from hospital staff even in the midst of her pain during her final days at the hospital!

As I read the newspaper article, listened to all that was said about her, and witnessed the grief and pain many felt at her funeral, it dawned on me what a rich legacy Aunty Santha had left behind! I found myself reflecting on my own life through these questions:

–          What would my life count for?

–          What would I be remembered for?

–          How has what I’ve done made a difference to others?

I may not be a prominent leader, or somebody known to many people, but I do nevertheless have an impact for better or worse in the lives of my family, my friends, my colleagues at work and even someone from overseas (like my domestic helper). One of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (by Stephen Covey) is ‘Begin with the end in mind’. In the chapter on that habit, he invites the reader to imagine himself attending his own funeral as an unseen observer. And he then asks what the reader would hope the people who gave eulogies might say. The content of those imagined eulogies would then serve as the direction and vision by which one lives. I think that’s excellent advice for all those intending to leave a good legacy. Aunty Santha’s funeral has certainly got me thinking about what I hope others will say about me. How about you?

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