Passing on the memories

Recipients can gather mementos, give them to their loved ones.

Max Manning wants to leave a little piece of himself to loved ones.

There’s a photo of the former electrician with a brother and his mother from 1981 as they enjoyed a sunny day at a state park. There’s his 1961 class ring from Pepperell High School and his birth certificate. Manning said he also wants to include letters he will write to his two younger brothers.

The items will all go into the wooden life legacy box that he keeps in his room at the Etowah Landing Care and Rehabilitation Center in Rome.

Manning, 68, who suffers from chronic emphysema, is under hospice care at the facility.

“The main thing is, I just want everybody to remember,” said Manning, once an avid fisherman. “I’ve always been a friendly and likable person. I’ve tried to please everybody.”

Manning received the hand-carved walnut and lacewood box through the Atlanta-based Life Legacy Box Project, a nonprofit formed this year by Dr. Dwana Bush, who runs a family medical practice in Sandy Springs and who is also certified in hospice care.

She works with a group of volunteers, including other health care workers, patient caregivers and woodworkers.

The project was designed to help patients in hospice care or people who have recently lost loved ones find comfort in the small treasures of their lives.

“In our society, we help patients all the way up to the moment of acknowledging that cure is no longer possible,” Bush said.

“But we have not found a helpful tool to help people finish their lives well, to acknowledge their contributions or to help them stay connected in spirit and in stories to those they leave behind.”

The life legacy box allows patients to have that final control over which items they cherish most — and sometimes final messages — that will be left to loved ones.

Bush conceived of the idea years after the death of her own father, Charlie.

An engineer, her father used to love tinkering in his basement.

When he died, Bush inherited his tools. Each time she holds them, she said, it brings back strong and pleasant memories.

Bush decided to make a keepsake box for the mementos from his life that she, in turn, would one day pass along to her daughter. She wanted it to be “something beautiful, made by love.”

The more she talked about the project, the more others became interested, including members of the Woodworkers’ Guild of Georgia.

Manning’s life legacy box, for instance, was designed and constructed by Paul Fussell, community outreach coordinator for the guild and owner of Innovative Wood in Suwanee. Fussell said he instantly became interested when he read that Manning loved fishing but hadn’t been able to do it in a long time because of his health. Fussell carved a bass on the lid of the box, which his girlfriend painted.

They delivered it to Manning themselves.

Watching Manning with the box “made me feel pretty good,” he said.

Fussell has already built several others for the project.

“It really touched me,” said Manning, his voice breaking during a telephone interview. “It just about knocked my socks off. I’m going to hurry and put my journal in there.”

Not long ago, Bush heard about another possible life legacy box recipient, this one quite well known.

Azira Hill and her husband of 56 years, prominent Atlanta businessman Jesse Hill Jr., have filled their Buckhead condo with decades of remembrances from their work in Atlanta’s cultural, business and civil rights arenas.

Fussell, who is building boxes for the Hills, recently met with Azira at their home for the first time.

He saw photos of Jesse with former President Bill Clinton along with an entire wall of awards.

But what stood out most were the personal photos of the Hills during their wedding in Cuba as well as shots of their children and grandchildren.

Fussell is considering building separate boxes connected by a wooden hinge or possibly a trunk with two boxes.

Although Azira is in excellent health, her husband suffers from dementia.

The decision was made to make a double box to acknowledge their individual and joint contributions, as well as the care she provides for her husband.

Although the Hills have a will, the boxes, in some ways, seem more personal.

“I think it’s nice,” Azira said. “It will help you focus on the real things you want to pass on.”

Bush expects the concept to grow. Free classes are being offered to people who want to volunteer to build boxes. Bush said about a dozen boxes have already been given away.

“It’s a great opportunity for woodworkers to kind of give back and it’s nice for people on the receiving end to receive something handmade and carefully crafted,” said Jeff Slaton of Rockler Woodworking and Hardware in Sandy Springs.

“I wish I could have had something like this from my grandfather. Perhaps he could have left me some information that may have saved me a few mistakes over my life.”

To learn more about the project and classes: info@Life LegacyBox.org.