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12 Signature Songs – How to Leave a Legacy Ahead

The ‘Signature 12’ playlist is an idea gifted to me by a client of mine named Gwen (not her real name). They are 12 songs that help you reflect on your life, who you are, and what you value. The 12 songs can also be a piece of your legacy. Here’s the story of how Gwen impacted me.

When I was introduced to Gwen, she was sitting on her hospice bed wearing a colourful headscarf. Pictures of her and her family were all around the room, interspersed with bright paintings and drawings.

She smiled when she asked, “Jennifer, would you be able to return to my room on Friday?” After I said ‘yes’ she said, “and can you come prepared to sing these 12 songs?”

What I didn’t know at the time was that Friday would become one of the most significant moments of my career.

Lately, and it may be my age, and it most certainly has been due to a time of uncertainty, but I have been experiencing a higher level of reflection in my life. Perhaps I’m even looking for opportunities to reflect? As much as I continue to explore new music introduced to me by my clients or my children, I have definitely become one of “those people” — the ones who listen to “oldies music” like my mom used to do. The familiar music from my past, sometimes the very distant past, reminds me of the young person I once was. There have been many times when I have wanted to reach back in time and be able to tell my younger self, “everything is going to be okay.” 

That Friday when I arrived, Gwen’s daughter and sister were already there, seated on either side of her.

“Thank you for coming,” she said to everyone in the room as she gestured for me to sit on a chair in the corner. 

“I invited you here today because we need to say goodbye.” Silence. “I know that this is hard for you as it is for me, so I came up with an idea that could perhaps help all of us. Hailey, will you please go into the side closet and take out the piece of canvas I asked Julia to bring last week?” Hailey walked over to the closet, opened the door, and brought out the canvas leaning against the wall inside. “Julia will you please reach into that top drawer and bring out the pastels that one of the nurses brought for me?” Julia walked to the end of the bed and opened the top drawer to find the pastels. There were many colours.

When the two women were once again seated on either side of Gwen, she continued to speak. “I have asked Jennifer to play twelve songs today. During the first song, I am going to start drawing, and when the song ends, I am going to pass the canvas to you, Julia, and you are going to continue the picture, adding in whatever the music brings to your mind.

“When the second song is finished, you will pass the canvas to Hailey, who is going to continue from where you left off. We will pass the canvas back and forth after every song.”

For many of us, our personal soundtrack in our later adult years becomes more than just a memory — it can become our legacy, for others to remember us by. Perhaps even more telling than what you do select is the music you choose not to include in your top twelve — that will open up even deeper insights into who you are and what you value. The act of building such a specialized playlist can bring forth some new clues about what music means to you that you may not have considered yet.

Gwen put a few finishing strokes on the canvas and then held it up for each of them to look at. The family had created a painting of a beautiful meadow with flowers of many colours. A few weeks later the image would be screened onto a CD cover and the twelve songs would be shared with every person who attended her funeral. Everyone would have the honour to experience Gwen’s Signature 12.

Gwen had set the intention of using her life’s musical soundtrack as the backdrop to already powerful relationships. It was a non-verbal means of sharing herself and her heart to help her loved ones heal, and the songs she had so carefully selected allowed her to say a touching goodbye.

Music is extremely personal and can do a lot of emotional heavy lifting. It is known to give us a hug when we need it the most.

I believe the closer we get to our music, the clearer our vision will become. I can’t think of a better way of hastening this process than by reviewing our life’s soundtrack and taking it that extra step.

Are you ready to curate your Signature 12?

Learn how in Wellness, Wellplayed: The Power of a Playlist