ASHLAND - Creating a lasting memento is one of the greatest gifts a person can give to his or her family, older adult consultant Diana Spore told participants in the "Leaving A Lasting Legacy" workshop Monday.

Spore urged participants to spend a few minutes thinking and journaling about about how they would want to be remembered by family, friends and neighbors and what life lessons they would like to pass on to future generations. 

With those goals in mind, Spore said, people of any age may want to begin creating legacy projects such as journals, letters, memoirs or life stories, video or audio recordings, obituaries, family trees, photo albums, time capsules or memory boxes.

Alternatively, or in addition to those projects, people may want to create multi-generational experiences such as family trips to significant locations, family volunteer projects or family gatherings to share memories. 

Spore and her fellow workshop leader, Hospice of North Central Ohio bereavement coordinator Kailey Bradley-Thomas, said legacy projects can be emotionally and even physiologically therapeutic for everyone involved, whether the projects are created collaboratively through multigenerational conversations or formed individually and then gifted to family members before or after the creator's death. 

A collaboration of Ashland County Mental Health and Recovery Board and Hospice of North Central Ohio, Monday's workshop was scheduled in June as part of Older Adults Behavioral Health Coalition of Ashland County's Elder Empowerment Month.

The event also featured guests from Ashland County Historical Society and Ashland Public Library, who offered suggestions for how individuals and families can use the resources of both organizations for legacy project inspiration or research. 

Often advanced age, a diagnosis of dementia, a terminal diagnosis or a transformative experience prompts people to begin thinking about leaving a legacy.

But it's never too early-- or too late-- to start a legacy project, Spore said. 

Historical society director Jennifer Marquette shared the story of her family's experience with her mother-in-law, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's and then lived another 17 years. After the diagnosis, Marquette said, family members began thinking of things they wanted to ask Marquette's mother-in-law while she was still able to have conversations about her life and her memories. 

These days, Marquette is working on legacy projects she will one day pass on to her own children.

Among the participants in Monday's workshop was Jackie Fry, a volunteer with Ohio's Hospice LifeCare in Wayne County. 

Fry has been working with hospice patients to create legacy videos, something she has found to benefit both patients and their families. 

She created one recent video with a man in his 90s who had been a dancer throughout his life. During the video, he and his wife sang songs together. At the end of the video, the man stood and asked his wife to dance. 

The video created a profoundly beautiful moment between husband and wife as well as a lasting memento that will be cherished by family for years to come. 

Another video Fry helped create featured a young grandmother who knew she would not live long enough for her grandchildren to remember her. 

The woman wrote a message for her grandchildren and recorded herself reading it so that her grandchildren could watch the video when they get older. 

Fry ended up using some of the words the woman had written to create a board book, which she gave the woman's family as a gift after the woman passed away. 

The following is a list of tips and ideas from Monday's workshop:

  • Write letters to your family members, either to open while you are alive or after you pass away
  • Share a journal back and forth with a family member
  • Have meaningful mementos made from meaningful fabrics. For example, make keepsake t-shirts into a quilt or use pieces of a wedding dress to create a christening gown
  • Initiate a conversation with a loved one using one of these prompts: What have you cherished and valued most when you look back on your life? What words of wisdom would you share with others about how to live life well? What is the funniest thing you have ever done or experienced?
  • Visit a significant place, such as the first home grandma and grandpa lived in as newlyweds
  • Use a memory box or book to rekindle memories, especially for loved ones with dementia
  • When words are inadequate, use ceremony. Light a candle or play music. 
  • Have a family dinner or similar event to share memories
  • When having a legacy conversation with an older loved one or someone with dementia, don't correct them if their memory of dates are wrong. Allow them to set the pace of conversation.
  • The act of writing about one's thoughts or experiences can serve as an emotional outlet and a way of coping. It can also improve immune function. 
  • Creating a legacy project helps solidify values, foster resiliency and strengthen family bonds