What Legacy Letters Give To Its Writers, Part 5
This article is part of a series from our guest expert, Rachael Freed. You can find the rest of the articles in this series linked at the end of this post.
The historical precedent for blessings, one of the fundamental elements in legacy writing, is found in Genesis 49. Jacob lay on his death bed and passed on his values by blessing each of his 12 sons, giving his moral and ethical instructions. At the end of the book of Exodus (chapter 39) Moses blessed the Israelites. So too for us as we approach the end of our lives, blessing future generations is a natural and responsible act.
Blessings are not only for children written by their grandparents. We all need blessings – no matter our ages. Many of us didn’t have families in which we were regularly blessed; yet we can bless our loved ones. One more look at the ancient story: when Esau realized that his younger brother Jacob had stolen his blessing from their father Isaac, Esau went to Isaac (Genesis 27:34) asking poignantly, “Have you no blessing for me, father?”
In my experience the only act sweeter than receiving a blessing from someone I respect is to offer a blessing to a loved one. We can do this as the close of a legacy letter, no matter the topic of the letter, and irrespective of age, gender, or circumstance of the recipient of the letter.
Once many years ago (‘in a land far far away’) I remember leading a short legacy program for a dozen elderly seniors. I focused on blessings after a brief introduction. I passed out pens and index cards suggesting they each write a short (3 minutes) blessing to someone in need of a blessing. After their writing, I invited them to share their blessings. They each read their blessings; they were touching, sincere, and well received. Finally there were two women left, who I’d noticed earlier hadn’t written. I asked the first if she’d like to share. When she stated, as crisply as an autumn apple, that she hadn’t written, I asked her in my naivety, “how come?” [Big mistake.] She replied confidently that only priests, ministers, and rabbis could offer blessings. I had no response, but luckily our time together was over. I thanked them all for coming, offered them a brief blessing for health and peace, and escorted them outside to their waiting bus. For years after that experience, I shared a hand-out I’d prepared of spectacular quotations about blessings and their importance, written by clergy and non-clergy, extolling the spiritual gift of offering blessings.
When we look closely at Jacob’s blessings, what we read feels more like instructions, less like blessings – natural too for us to want to use the wisdom we’ve accumulated through our experiences to instruct those who will come after us. However in contemporary legacy writing, I suggest that we bless, not instruct, our loved ones. [As a self-admitted rebel all my life, instructions were meant to be broken or ignored, but blessings always nourished me.]
How can we tell the difference? Read aloud to yourself the blessings you have written. If you’ve written an instruction, the words will be experienced in your head. If you’ve written a blessing, you will feel it as coming from your heart.
Words that come from the heart enter the heart.
Writing a personal blessing on a beautiful card to celebrate a friend or family member’s birthday, wedding, anniversary, graduation, job promotion, etc. is much more satisfying than relying on Hallmark’s words, or Facebook’s emojis.
- Make a list of the people in your life who need a blessing at this time. (Consider the usual birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, new jobs & promotions.) But also include those more painful transitions, for those who are ill, struggling with divorce and its family ramifications, those experiencing painful losses of all kinds.
- Choose the most pressing one first. Step into that person’s shoes to get a sense of what this transition or loss may be about for them and what you can offer them. Write for 3-5 minutes.
- Then edit your blessing (For assistance see Women’s Lives, Women’s Legacies, pages 151-152]. This editing is not for grammar and punctuation, but for clarity of thought and feeling. Feel free to use the Thesaurus or The Synonym Finder to choose the words that most accurately express your thoughts and feelings in your blessings.
- Before copying it onto a beautiful blank card, read it aloud to yourself to be sure it is heartfelt, rather than head-instructional.
- Return to your list and create blessings regularly and as needed adding names as circumstances change.
May your heart be full with gratitude
for the blessings you’ve received
and for your opportunities to express
blessings to those you love,
– Rachael Freed
This article (Part 5) is part of a series. You can find the rest of the articles in this series in the links below:
- The Significance Of Writing Legacy Letters, Part 1
- What Legacy Letters Give To Its Writers, Part 2
- What Legacy Letters Give To Its Writers, Part 3
- What Legacy Letters Give To Its Writers, Part 4
- What Legacy Letters Give To Its Writers, Part 6
- What Legacy Letters Give To Its Writers, Part 7
Rachael Freed, LICSW, senior fellow, Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing, University of Minnesota, is the author of Your Legacy Matters and Women’s Lives, Women’s Legacies firstname.lastname@example.org and www.life-legacies.com