Perspectives: On Leaving a Legacy

By Gregg Ratliff

It’s somewhat of a desperate thought to think that we might invest our entire life here on this earth, with all the hardships that we experience and not be remembered for it. And yet, the truth of the matter is that there are very few recognizable names, which get passed down from generation to generation throughout history. Let’s see, there is Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and Gregg Ratliff. Beyond that we could probably continue our list for only another minute or two and then the additions to our list would begin to get rather sparse despite the history of millions and millions of people who have inherited this earth before us. Even most of the famous people in history have quickly been forgotten after their time in the sun… “kingdoms come and go” and “dust returns to dust.” I’m sure there are many ALS patients thinking, “I didn’t get to finish all the accomplishments that I planned on achieving and I feel a great disappointment.” That’s totally understandable! But, having observed my wife’s and other friends’ lives with ALS, I can tell you my ALS friends you INSPIRE us to new levels in our lives! Some of you write books with your eyes, some climb mountains, some attend social events in a wheelchair, events like; operas, concerts, weddings and graduations. Most of you courageous men and women retain an attitude of hope and optimism that outshines those of us not facing this scourge first hand. Your courage and dignity is an example to all! You don’t give up and you remind us that we must not give up in our trials either!

And then, there are also caregivers thinking… “There are so many things that I had planned on doing that I have had to put on hold.” But, honestly, caregivers you are providing the noblest, most honorable gift that anyone could give; compassionately meeting emotional, mental, financial and physical grueling challenges with love. Don’t lose sight of the noble, gracious and honorable gift that you are providing. You may not recognize it now but your caregiving may be the most virtuous endeavor of your lifetime.

Some people try to enter this elite group of the famous people by working harder than anyone else. As I reflected on this topic I was reminded of an incident, several years ago, when I made a telephone call to my Uncle Max, who was recuperating in a Midwest City, Oklahoma hospital. The purpose of my call was to check on him following his cancer surgery. Uncle Max was renowned in our family for being a hard worker. He never missed work.

Most of you courageous men and women retain an attitude of hope and optimism that outshines those of us not facing this scourge first hand.
Your courage and dignity is an example to all!

Uncle Max was an electrical engineer at Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City. He assisted with the electrical design for the U.S. Air Force “Minute Man Missile System.” This meant if he wasn’t busy at Tinker A.F. Base he was probably flying to or from a Washington D.C. meeting at the Pentagon. My Aunt Patsy told me that Uncle Max often went to work sick, he worked long days, weekends, holidays, and occasionally he did not take all of his vacation time. I think it would be safe to say he was dedicated. When I called Max, I jokingly said, “Uncle Max has Tinker Air Force Base shut down since you have been in the hospital?” He paused for a moment and then his voice got very serious as he replied, “Gregg, they don’t even know I’m gone.” (A lesson to be learned by all of us.) Most of us would love to have our names listed in the annals of history but if we don’t, and the odds are high that we won’t, we can still make our life stand for something. My great grandchildren may not find my name in their history books but I do hope they will hear from their parents, which are my grandchildren that “Poppa” stood for something good.

What do you stand for? Is it a noble cause? What will your LEGACY be? Are we living our lives consistently with our desired legacy? For me, I would like to be remembered for my: integrity, loyalty, compassion, for being a dedicated, loving husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend, neighbor and in a nutshell a strong but humble Christian man. My departed wife, Nancy, was a daycare teacher. She LOVED children and they knew it. She made an impact on the next generation. In fact, she loved everyone around her. As I said in the introduction of one of my books, “she was my wife for almost forty-four years and my hero for the past seven years.” I will always remember her courage and strength, as will our children, grandchildren and her hundreds of friends. We will do our best to keep her memory alive through her annual ALS 5K Memorial fundraiser. But the truth of the matter is, her significance does not depend upon our limited ability to push memory of her forward through these events.


Today’s blog post is part of a recurring monthly series from our good friend Gregg Ratliff. In 2009, Gregg’s wife Nancy was diagnosed with ALS, and he became her full-time caregiver for the next seven years. In his series, “Perspectives: It’s All in How You Look at it,” Gregg will share his insights on ALS and the impact it has on families. 

For more information on resources available to caregivers of loved ones with ALS, please visit www.alsa-stl.org.

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