2016 is a year that many will recall as a time of mass exodus from the planet. On social media, comments have focused on how people couldn’t wait for the calendar page to turn, as if that had anything to do with the celebrity death toll. They would vent their sorrow and frustration, using expletives that would leave readers with no doubt about their sentiments. It was as if the Grim Reaper was wearing a banner with the year draped across it and a come-hither/menacing look on his face as he wielded his scythe.
According to Snopes, “While a large number of celebrities certainly passed away in 2016, the Reporter, Legacy.com, and The Telegraph all counted more celebrity deaths in 2016 than in the previous three years, but this year ranked second, third, or even fourth among that group according to other news outlets.”
As the year began, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glen Frey, Abe Vigoda, Edgar Mitchell and Harper Lee took their leave. Throughout the rest of the seasons, Nancy Reagan, Prince, Phife Dawg, Patty Duke, Merle Haggard, Doris Roberts, Muhammed Ali, Eli Wiesel, Janet Reno, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones and Florence Henderson joined them. George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds ended the 12 months, leaving heartbreaking sadness in their wake.
Chalk it up to the fact that many who have passed are in a demographic in which death might be expected and that some whose ending of this earthly incarnation may have been hastened by addiction that had taken its toll.
We are also a world in which celebrities feel even more personal and intimate than those who are in our daily lives, so that when one dies, we may react as if we have lost someone in our inner circles.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, David Kaplan, Ph.D., chief professional officer of the American Counseling Association explained. “We grow up with these people. We see their movies, we hear their music on a regular basis and we really get to know them. In a sense, they become a member of our family — especially the ones we really like — so when they die, it’s like an extended member of our family dies. It’s somebody we feel like we know.”
How Do You Want to Live?
A few years ago, I had a conversation with a college friend named Gina Foster. She made a comment about endeavoring to “live significantly”. I loved that intention and wrote it down and had it displayed on the bulletin board in my office at the psychiatric hospital where I had been employed as a social worker. Occasionally patients would notice it and I would use that as an opportunity to remind them that they, and every other being on the planet, matters.
The truth as I know it, is that each of us came here with a purpose and it is our creative challenge in each lifetime is to determine what that is. Some of us knew instantly what it was and for others, it takes much longer to uncover-recover-discover our passion. I always knew that mine lay in the creative writing realm. For me, books were treasures-toys-candy all in one and in elementary school, I began writing stories and scribe poetry. In college, I started journaling and I have some from my 20’s; looking at them in amazement that I still face some of the same issues, as a woman old enough to be the mother of that younger version of myself. Blessedly, I have moved past some of those worn out, dysfunctional beliefs.
Wisdom from His Holiness the Dalai Lama
I recall something that The Dalai Lama expressed when I interviewed him in 2008. I had asked him about the legacy he wanted to leave.
His adamant response, “No, no, no. Many years ago, a New York Times journalist asked me that question. I told her, as a Buddhist practitioner, not allowed. If I take serious my legacy, that means self-centered. So, I answer that and then again that lady asked a second time and I answered same way and then a third time and then I lost my temper. If you ask, I may lose my temper. (Laughter followed.) Your motivation should be sincere and your life should be of benefit to some people. That is the main thing. Don’t care after my death.”
For me, a legacy isn’t about ego gratification or how I will be remembered. It is about doing good for its own sake, about practicing tikkun olam; which means “the repair of the world,” in Hebrew. It is about being an example of loving kindness, of being the first one to reach out. It calls on us each day to do more than merely exist. We can take up space or we can make a difference.
I have also observed that people who have a purpose and live from that place, are less likely to be depressed or addicted. I have seen “unreasonable” happiness trump fear and dysfunction.
I had inquired about the legacy people in my personal and professional circles wanted to leave. None of them seemed ego-entrenched, but more of a sense of desiring to make a difference.
- “She made a positive difference in the world.”
- “She continued to be an activist for justice for all.”
- “She taught thousands of people how to grow their own food and how to cherish the planet we live on.”
- “He was funny as hell, a character, and a loving and giving man.”
- “Ultimately our legacy doesn’t belong to us — the impression we have on others never does. The more important thing is how we reconcile the legacy and mythology of ourselves that we carry with us as we live and how we are willing and able to allow that to evolve.”
- “For the past 30 years, I had chosen 2 songs for my passing celebration that represented me and recently realized that they no longer are logical choices because I keep growing and making choices. I don’t feel an attachment to legacy. I would simply enjoy knowing that when I’m remembered, people smile.”
- “Once it was overheard about me, “no one works harder”. I did not want that to be my legacy so I set out to change it. What a ride! I hope now people will think of me as big hearted and kind, generous and that I affected at least one other life in a positive manner. Then I will be satisfied.”
- “She did the damn thing on HER terms, and left a trail of glitter behind her, which inevitability left the world more beautiful than how she found it.”
- “I would like to be remembered as a funny, passionate & kind person and someone who was as excited with life as a 13-year-old girl at a Beatles concert.”
- “I want my legacy to be all the smiles and laughs I caused through my crazy life transition from a bra-burning revolutionary to a suburban 70s mom to a single woman who found her place in clowning, music and puppets that bring joy to friends, family and people who need a laugh. My legacy is ridiculousness”
- “My legacy lies with my children…and perhaps in a publication or two. I hope that love is the message”
- “I would like it to be said of me that she loved well, she learned something new every day, that she lived authentically, and she was a force to be reckoned with.”
- “One of love”
- “The biggest thing that I would like people to think of when they remember my name – is how I made them feel. This journey is about visceral experiences. If I can empower someone to feel and then helped them to gently express their feelings in a heart centered way, then I have aligned with my true purpose.”
- “Truthteller is how to remember me.”
Singer-songwriter Charley Thweatt penned a poignant piece that reminds us that we will all die someday and “what matters is how we live.”
How will you live?