What Legacy Letters Give To Its Writers, Part 6
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.
I discovered a new and seventh need to add to the other six needs as I was preparing for the webinar I and six of my facilitators did this recently for the Aging to Sag-ing* conference. I have long proposed that there are two elements basic to legacy writing (as expressed by Jacob as he was dying in Genesis 49). Those two elements are blessings and stating death and dying preferences. The latter is more difficult for us because we live in a death-averse culture, and death generally remains, even after Kubler-Ross’s groundbreaking 1969 On Death and Dying, a taboo subject.
Beneath our interest in story and blessing in legacy writing is our awareness that we are mortal. When we acknowledge our mortality, even though we don’t know when death will come, it makes sense that one of the needs we have is to put our lives in order. From a legacy perspective that means that we need to take care of our “stuff.” And then this awareness demands two more important legacy letters that have to do with our dying. the first to accompany your will; the second to accompany your medical directive.
Generally when I begin a legacy workshop I ask participants if they have a will; 90-100% indicate ‘yes’ and when I ask if they have a medical directive or a living will, about 60% indicate ‘yes’. Then I ask, do you have an ethical will (a document or letter of values, not valuables), sometimes a few say they have, but most look dumb-founded. They don’t know what I mean.
Both your will and your living will are legal documents. Your legacy letters are not. You can attach them to the legal documents and they provide you the opportunity to explain how your values led to the choices you wrote in your will and living will. These letters can also serve to initiate family conversations about issues of money and dying, the most difficult conversations families have (or avoid ever having). Legacy writers to a person say that although those two letters were the most difficult to write, they brought relief, peace of mind, and often a deepening and strengthening of family understanding and intimacy.
Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation.
– Albert Einstein
Death tells us not to waste time…It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other
– Leo Buscaglia
Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever
– Mahatma Gandhi
- Read and update your will and living will. As you read extract the values that gave rise to your choices.
- Take time to reflect on what you mean by and how you feel about the formal, legal words in both documents.
- For your will, put yourself in the shoes of those who will read the documents after you’ve passed, Think about the questions they’d have, and how they’ll feel reading your will. Write what you really mean for them to know about your values and why you made the choices you did.
- For your living will, take time to decide how you want to be treated in your final days. Express those choices clearly and lovingly, knowing that your loved ones will themselves be grieving about the prospect of losing you.
- Be sure to conclude each letter with a loving blessing to each of them.
- If you can, share both letters with your loved ones long before your end, to allow for discussion.
May both letters and your conversation with loved ones give you and them peace of mind.
– Rachael Freed
This article (Part 6) 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 5
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