Written By: Molly Kavanaugh
In a keepsake frame by my bed is a handwritten letter from my father, mailed to me during college. The letter itself is nothing fancy, just a yellow legal-size paper written in pencil. But the words are priceless.
Unlike my father, my mother often wrote me letters. But she saved her final words of love as a parting gift. Tucked in with her “important papers” was a sealed letter addressed to me, which I opened after she died.
Gifts like these, well, you sure can’t find in a store.
This holiday, consider giving your loved ones such a heartfelt gift.
Write a Letter
A “last will” is written so you can pass along your possessions to those you love. An ethical will or legacy letter is written so you can pass along your values, life lessons and other beliefs and memories to loved ones.
Dr. Barry K. Baines became interested in ethical wills when his father was terminally ill. Later, while working in hospice, he wrote a book, “Ethical Wills, Putting your Values on Paper,” to help others write such a lasting letter.
Baines cites several reasons for writing such a letter:
It helps us identify what we value most and what we stand for;
By articulating what we value now, we can take steps to ensure the continuation of those values for future generations;
We learn a lot about ourselves in the process of writing an ethical will;
It helps us come to terms with our mortality by creating something of meaning that will live on after we are gone;
If we don’t tell our stories and the stories from which we come, no one else will and they will be lost forever.
His website, Celebrations of Life, offers several tips for writing such a letter.
But while such tips can be helpful, don’t let the details bog you down or discourage you from giving such a gift. My parents’ letters were short, and I’m sure they didn’t read a reference book or agonize over fancy stationery (my mother wrote her letter on white copy paper). What matters is that the letter contains words from your heart, written in your handwriting, or typed or dictated if you are unable to write.
Or a Book
Maybe what you want to leave loved ones is your life story or a detailed account of a life-changing experience, such as fighting in a war, adopting a child or surviving a natural disaster.
Given the availability of affordable self-publishing, it’s easier than ever. And you will join the ranks of thousands of older adults who are self-publishing their memoirs.
Nancy Hultquist, co-chair of Kendal’s Genealogy Committee, knew very little about her father’s family, who emigrated to Southern U.S. from Germany. Now she is turning the research into a booklet to give to family members this holiday.
One of her many interesting findings - her father’s first and middle name, Calvin Owen, came from the doctor who delivered him. That name was then given to her brother. Along with family photographs, Nancy has included one of the doctor in the booklet.
Other Heartfelt Gifts
You might prefer a different medium to share your words of love and memories. You could make an audio or video recording, using home equipment or your smart phone. You might want to make a collage, using photographs and meaningful documents to chronicle your journey. Or put together a book of recipes that paints a portrait of your life.
What “things’ do you treasure and want to pass along to loved ones? Maybe you told them the backstory of the antique necklace or oil painting, but will they remember? Write it down and share the story with them now, even if the actual gift will come after your death.
That’s what I’m doing with my 26-year-old son, an only child. He will inherit all my jewelry and I want him to know what I treasure and why, starting with the gold locket his father gave me a couple hours after he was born.
We would love to hear about some of your heartfelt gift ideas or even gifts you gave in that past that left a memory!
Written By: Molly Kavanaugh