Here at The Final Acts Project, one of the words we like to use is “legacy.” It’s a big, fancy word. We’d all like to leave our legacy. But what exactly does it mean, and why is it important?

I believe that “legacy” means capturing the essence of an individual’s life, the part of a person that will live on beyond death. Sadly, the full richness of a person’s life is often not on display until a funeral service, where an entire personal history is recalled by loved ones in a special ceremony. Isn’t it strange that often, we wait until someone has died to honor his or her life and give it the remembrance it deserves?

Because our society is often uncomfortable discussing death, focusing on someone’s legacy also may be neglected. No ceremony highlights someone’s legacy until that person has achieved an advanced age, is gravely ill, or has died. With our mortality in mind, it is natural to recognize the legacy of our dearly beloved family and friends sooner, as well as defining our own legacy. Certainly, our accomplishments and the way we act toward others convey our deepest held values and beliefs. But it’s often hard to describe a person’s legacy, the wake left by one life’s passage that continues to ripple outward long after the person has died.

Here’s where the creative arts can help. We may not all be artistically gifted, but we are all creative by nature. Creative expression has many forms: drawing or painting; decorating; building a handmade craft; journaling or writing a letter; creating jewelry; or making a collage, or a photo album. Some people can express themselves through singing or playing an instrument. The arts are a wonderful way to recognize the impact that someone else has had on your life, as well as to create something that expresses a deep desire within you.

One way I have tried to be creative in recognizing the legacy of my loved ones is by writing them “agape letters” (agape is Greek for love). In the letters, I have written those things that I would want my family and loved ones to know if they were on their deathbeds. Someday, they will be gone. So why wait?