Be Here Then

why and how to write & create an ethical will, hospice card, or other legacy

What are legacy letters?

What are legacy letters?  And where are they the same and different from ethical wills?  Read on.  In general, think of legacy letters as ethical wills with extras.  A legacy letter ideally would include all the same things you would put in your ethical will, but perhaps in a little different format, and with some elaborations.

Use the immense power of stories to help your readers connect emotionally with your message.  The values you hold dear and include, just as you would in an ethical will, might be illustrated with a story explaining how that value came to be important to you. 

We don’t all do things right the first time, do we?  Some of our stories of early failures, when re-examined, can be seen as stories of persistence!  One person’s stubbornness is another person’s idea of perseverance.  A story plucked right out of your own experience can instill some hope into a future young and bruised reader:  “If he or she could get past these failures, maybe I can too!”  Stories also reveal important details about you, and these personal touches are wonderful additions to any family’s overall history. 

Such letters may also repeat and thus preserve a cherished old family story, such as how great-grandmother Emma met and married great-grandfather Fergus.  Those in the family who are interested in genealogy will absolutely love coming upon your legacy letter with a treasure trove of such information! 

In a longer document such as a legacy letter, you might be inclined to write something very specifically for a particular person.  For example, you might write two such letters: one to the general family, and another specifically to your oldest child, in which you — by family tradition — pass on the “secret family recipe.”   Include a story or two about how it became the “secret family recipe,” who started it, where they were from, why it was only  passed on to oldest children or the family’s best cook in the next generation.

Or you may have a child with certain fears, and in the past you have been able to offer the child some comforting thoughts, words, and suggestions for how to handle those fears when they come up.  Years from now, when you are no longer able to ‘be here now’ for your child, you can ‘be here then’ through your thoughtful letter. 

For example:  “Just in case being reminded of these things might help you one day that the [insert specific issue] gets to you — remember that I love you, and remember to go take a vigorous walk to clear your head before you make any decisions.  Then do that breathing exercise we used to do together:  [repeat the instructions here].  We all could use some help now and then.  Do you need to think about asking your brother or sister to pitch in now?  I have confidence you will get through these tough times.”

A legacy letter is also an invaluable way of ensuring that later generations won’t have to ask “who is that person in the back row?”  Your letter included with the family photo albums (where, of course, you have written who is who by each print!) will give an important part of the answer to the question: “How will I be remembered?”

IN SUMMARY:  Legacy letters pretty much are enlarged versions of ethical wills in that they include the same love, values, etc, but often include family stories that illustrate certain points that the writer wants to make, or information that the writer wants to share.  Both follow the Rule of NO.

NEXT UP:  Who should NOT write one, and the Rule of No.

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One thought on “What are legacy letters?

  1. Pingback: Writing about illness, end-of-life issues | Be Here Then

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