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Writing Legacy Letters to our Precious Children

journal writing close up

There has already been much written since that awful day in December when the lives of 27 were taken in a violent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. And there will continue to be.

Countless prayers have been uttered and printed, and we continue to mourn the senseless loss of life, of children no older than seven, and their courageous educators. We continue to send thoughts and prayers to the mourners and to the entire community so deeply wounded, a wound that will live as a legacy for generations.

Apropos of this moment is a prayer I recently read in Anne Lamott's new book, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.

"There are no words for the broken hearts
of people losing people, so I ask God
...to respond to them with graciousness
 and encouragement enough for the day."

President Obama charged the Vice President to study the complex issues and have solution suggestions on his desk by the end of the month. Gabby Giffords, a House of Representatives representative from Arizona, herself a victim of a 2011 shooting in Tucson, is mounting a campaign against gun violence. People all over are debating and discussing what can be done to protect innocents from the violence we experience regularly in our country. Multiple perspectives are heard in all the media.

It is unfortunate that it takes an emotional tsunami to awaken us, but appropriate that Newtown's losses have galvanized us as a nation to search our souls.

My perspective on this and most issues comes from legacy principles and practices. Legacy principles guide us always to look toward the future, to preserve what is good, express our love, and pass it forward.

As we honor those lost lives, we are also aware of our natural relief and gratitude for our treasures, our children and grandchildren and those of our neighbors and friends who did not lose their lives at the hand of a gunman in Newtown.

We know that life can change in the flash of a second. We know we don't control the length of our own days or those of others. There is no better time than now to look deeply into our hearts to find words to express the precious treasure of our children. Writing a legacy letter lets us hug them permanently.

Writing helps us heal, brings us toward wholeness and helps us learn to love, not fear, express not isolate or hide. Writing gives us a chance to leave helplessness behind and act in a way that brings light to those we love.

I am reminded of Merlin's advice to King Arthur when he sought help for his broken heart. Merlin tells Arthur to "go learn something." When last my heart was broken, my dreams and vision of a future lost, when my marriage was ending, I set about learning to read and write a foreign language...for the time that I studied and wrote, my heart was full and light, and healing began. Perhaps writing love letters to our children, letting them know our love and how precious they are to us, will help us heal.

Though I don't presume to know how to heal you or me, I do believe it is better to engage and express than to isolate in solitary pain. What we can do this very day, while our feelings are raw and our hearts are open, is take time to express our love with a legacy letter: a letter they will cherish long after we're gone.

Principles of Practice:

  1. Begin by listing each child and grandchild's name...if you have no children, consider naming nieces and nephews, children of dear friends, children you teach or coach or know in some other context.
  2. Then prepare by taking all the time you need to remember something specific you love about each of them: perhaps a quirky, lovable idiosyncrasy, perhaps a value they live, a quality they radiate, an inspiration they evoke, the way they communicate, an accomplishment of theirs, some way they are uniquely who they are that opens your heart.
  3. You may want to mention Newtown as a historical context that has helped you to see them and their preciousness more clearly … or not, depending on their ages and your inclination.
  4. Other choices for you to make include: writing a generic letter with a personal sentence or two specific to each child; or writing a personal letter to each child; or including within each personal letter a generic letter. Whichever choices you make, they will undoubtedly be exactly what each child needs. 
  5. After you've written a draft, set it aside at least overnight. You'll come back to it refreshed, and you may see something to add, delete, or change before your letter is in a form that best expresses your love in your own words and style.

And if I may borrow this prayer from Anne Lamott: "Help us walk through this."

by Rachael Freed

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