The legacy issue when you are a non-parent

By Nina Steele 

I was moved by the story of Tom Bryan, the World War II veteran who died a few months ago, aged 92. He never married nor had children. His nephew along with his wife and 2 children were his only remaining relatives.

Unhappy that his uncle’s funeral would only be attended by the 4 of them, his nephew posted a message on social media, in the hope that a few surviving veterans would come forward. Instead, what he got was about 400 people! He later commented on the unexpected outcome saying: “I was expecting perhaps half a dozen old boys from the [Royal British] Legion, which I would have been delighted with”.

Although Tom Bryan did not have any children, his legacy as a war veteran is what people will hopefully remember. This applies to every childless person who contributes something to society during their lifetime.

Unfortunately, there are still many people who equate legacy exclusively with children, particularly in certain cultures where the children of the dead are expected to send them off in an elaborate manner.

In African culture, death is a big thing. It is all about showing how successful a family is. People attending funerals expect to have a lot to eat and drink. Anything other than that and the funeral is considered a fiasco, and of course bad news spreads very fast. With that in mind, people will do anything to avoid bringing shame on their family, and that often means getting themselves further into debt.

To make matters worse, because polygamy is part of African culture, the funeral of a patriarch becomes an opportunity for the children of each of the wives to compete.

When my grandfather passed away over 25 years ago, most of his children attended his funeral (he had over 40 children, by 6 different wives). Each sets of children by each of the wives, put money together to pay for as many cows as possible (a cow is the animal of choice in the Ivory Coast for funerals; it is a symbol of one’s success). The whole event was spread into a couple of days, and was deemed a success.

Thankfully, in the West, funerals don’t hold the same significance (unless you are a royal or head of state), and I would like to believe that most people understand that legacy is not all about children. And if ever there was a story that shows that legacy is more than procreation alone, the story of Tom Bryan would be one of them.

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