On the first anniversary of our daughter’s death, my husband and I held a graveside service in her memory. It was a brief service because the February temperature hovered around zero and the wind chill was fierce. Despite the weather, 10 people gathered to remember her.

I passed out a list of our daughter’s values. These simple, powerful values are her legacy. Today, as my grandchildren graduate from high school and prepare for college, I am reminded of my daughter’s values and how they shaped her life.

My twin grandchildren were 15 years old when their mother and father died from the injuries they received in separate car crashes. The ensuing years have been challenging for them and us. Raising grandchildren while grieving for four loved ones — my daughter, father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law — is the greatest challenge of our lives.

Values are the supporting structure of life, steel girders that hold us up in times of trouble. Our daughter started to teach her twins about values when they were young, so they had good values when they moved into our home, and we are grateful for this. Where do values come from?

According to “Why You Should Know Your Personal Values,” an article on the Best of Time Management website, they come from parents, teachers, influential people, reading, television, and the “school-of-hard-knocks experience.” Values are also shaped by age and where we live. Though values may change slightly, the article says they remain fairly stable over time.

The mental picture of your loved one’s values may be clear or hazy. To clarify this picture you may read “Checklist for Personal Values” by C. Roberts, posted on the Self-Counseling website. Chances are the list includes some of your loved one’s values, things like honesty, ethics, kindness, and loyalty.

Reading the list is the first step in clarifying values. Narrowing the values down to 10 is the second. Then you narrow the list down to three, two, and finally one.

This word may be considered as a summary of your loved one’s values, or belief system. Judy Tatelbaum writes about belief systems in her book, “The Courage to Grieve.” According to Tatelbaum, the meanings we give to life “are often the keys to how well we survive the pain [of death] and how we restructure our lives after loss.”

Surely, my daughter’s values — belief in a Higher Power, practicing these beliefs, putting family first, enjoying her children, life-long learning, a job she loved, helping others, and laughter — will sustain my grandchildren in the years to come.

Still, I remind my grandchildren about these values with quick comments like, “Your mother was always learning.” But my husband and I are doing more than passing on our daughter’s values; we are living them. Our grandchildren have not commented about this, yet I can tell they understand it. Passing on your loved one’s values to the next generation is a fitting memorial and a source of comfort.

Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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