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Does Your Mother’s Legacy Shape Your Own?

By Kathleen M. Rehl May 04, 2021 Family

The Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines legacy as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor from the past.” It’s common to hear about legacies “living on” today when they continue to affect those in the present.

Kathleen and her mom, 1947

Mom’s Legacy Letter

Shortly before her death 14 years ago, Mom wrote a Legacy Letter to her family and friends, sharing what mattered to her. Below are excerpts from that letter:

I want my family to know that I love them. All have been so wonderful to me. That love will be with you forever.

As I’ve grown older, I continue to value family more and more. It’s so important to keep in touch. So much of who I am today is because of Mother and Grandma Green and Aunt Frances. They were very special ladies in many ways.

You can always learn new things throughout your entire life. It was important to me that my children had good educations, but they had to do it on their own ($$).

It may sound strange, but the more you give, the more you will receive.

My love for my children and grandchildren is too great to express in words. Show people you love that you care for them and be sure to tell them, too. Never be afraid to say, “I love you.” Be generous with your love.

My faith in God has helped me survive incredible challenges. At times I could not have made it without God’s help.

I apologize for the times I wasn’t the Mom you would have liked me to be. Please know that I really tried my best. Forgive whatever misunderstandings there are between you and those you love. Don’t’ be afraid to say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me. I was wrong.”

I read my mother’s Legacy Letter again each Mother’s Day and on her birthday… plus other random times. It continues to speak to me. I’ve also written legacy poetry and prose focused on Mom. Here’s a link to one poem I drafted on what would have been her 95th birthday.

My Own Legacy Letter

Below is the most recent version of my Legacy Letter, which I update annually. You will see there are many elements from my mother’s Legacy Letter and the poem I wrote about her that define my own legacy.

Dear Family and Friends,

Thank you for being a phenomenal blessing to me. Life wouldn’t have meant much without you. Over the years I’ve wished we lived closer, but we still stayed in touch and got together periodically. As I write my letter during this COVID-19 pandemic, I especially miss seeing you in person.

Life has taught me a lot, including these three things:

  1. The more you give, the more you’ll receive in return. Helping others results in rich rewards. I call this “psychic income.”
  2. Education opens many doors. Earning a Ph.D. and other advanced credentialling was worth the effort, bringing me interesting opportunities. I loved learning new things.
  3. Perseverance and hard work pay off. I kept on keeping on, often reinventing myself to get where I wanted to be. Change was my mantra.

Thinking about what matters most, I know this has evolved over the years. Now in my “reFirement” chapter, here’s a little graphic with the top 5 values guiding my actions.

In closing, here’s a favorite quote of mine:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
 with your one wild and precious life?”
 — from “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

P.S. You’ll find many legacy poems and stories I’ve written over the years in my separate notebook. Hope you’ll enjoy them!

I will love you forever,


Updated on 1/31/2021

What Will Your Legacy Be?

Legacy doesn’t have to be fancy. Simply focus on what matters to you. Your legacy may be shaped by your mother’s legacy or not. Perhaps you’ve gone 180 degrees from where your Mom was.

Do you think your legacy was shaped by that of your mother or grandmother? Where do you find similarities? Which things are different? Have you written a legacy letter? What have you expressed in it? Please share with the community!

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The Author

Kathleen M. Rehl, Ph.D., CFP®, wrote the award-winning book, Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows. She owned Rehl Financial Advisors for 18 years before an encore career empowering widows. Now “reFired,” Rehl writes legacy stories and assists nonprofits. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s, CNBC, and more. She’s adjunct faculty at The American College of Financial Services.

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