Living Legacies and MLK for Coping with Loss

Today is the Federally observed day of birth (83rd anniversary) for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There are many things to reflect upon, and ponder re: his ideas, actions, and life. This is not a post about such things, but you can read interesting thoughts here or here.


accepting Nobel Peace Prize in 1964

At any given time I will begin to work with a new client re: a loss of a loved one, orĀ  we will talk about the fast approaching anniversary of the passing of a family member. Grief and loss are never easy topics, and require much tip-toeing around to gather information and gauge how much someone is wanting to talk about their feelings or whether he/she just wants to sit with their feelings in a safe place. At some point, a client and I may begin processing the loss, and quite commonly people feel that they are suppose to be in active mourning or grieving the loss out of reverence and respect for those who have passed. It is then I may bring up the great Dr. King.


Whether it’s a child or an adult, almost everyone when asked, is familiar with MLK. I may ask a client to share what they know about him. Then I may ask how they came to know so much about a man who died over 40 years ago, perhaps even before they were born. Usually people give me strange looks at this point, as if I’m in disbelief that they know about MLK. We then will usually talk about the significance of knowing various things about a person we’ve never met, and what would the children of MLK must think knowing that we knew all these things about their father whom we never met. Usually the client will say that his children are probably happy knowing that their father is not forgotten, and that he continues to be a significant or important person in society today.

All the while, if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably beginning to question what does King’s Birthday, grieving a loss, and counseling have to do with one another. After all this leading and setting up, we begin to talk about the idea of legacy and how the legacy of MLK continues to live with us today, how his words and actions are still things we are trying to work on or fulfill. We start to talk about how his death/assassination was not in vain and we as members of this society continue to understand and grapple with his ideas of peace and equality. Once we start talking about this idea of a “living legacy” we may go back to the family member or loved one who’s no longer with them. I inquire about who they were, what their favorite things were, what my client remembered or loved/respected most about that person. Then I may ask if it’s possible that a little part of their life could be a tribute, a “living legacy” of the person who is no longer with them.


I have had clients find much relief when they found they could channel their loss into something positive. In fact, I have not had a client say that carrying the legacy of someone else was/would be too burdensome. I have had clients who have accepted their role in embracing the legacy of their mother. To them this may mean assuming the role of caretaker for the extended family, or it may mean keeping alive the traditions of holidays and foods (that once may have brought up so much sorrow) that can now become a positive way of celebrating and promoting this idea of a “living legacy.”


Today is the one day, where we in the United States, all turn our thoughts and attentions to Martin Luther King Jr. Perhaps it’s not enough that it’s only one day out of the year, but it’s a time of remembrance, reflection, and being challenged by the legacy of his life’s work. I hope that this day can also be a reminder of other legacies in our life.


What legacies are alive within you today?


If you would like to explore more about “living legacies,” please contact me.



*photo credit:

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