autobiography: one’s own record of one’s own life. Typically an autobiography encompasses all of one’s life, whereas a memoir is a recounting of a particular period of it (see memoir).
biography: one person’s account of another (the subject) person’s life; based typically on such things as documents and interviews with third parties who knew the subject person.
ethical will: a focused communication of one’s values, life lessons, love and forgiveness, typically written in one to two pages and offered to or left for one’s children, family, and/or friends and community. Also, an account of the values a parent wishes instilled in his or her child by a guardian in the event of the parent’s untimely death. More and more, people are writing ethical wills or other legacy communications during critical periods in their lives such as marriage, birth of a child, illness, catastrophic events, and retirement.
end-of-life issues: phrase used to include the various psychological, practical, legal, and medical factors that become especially noticeable, necessary, or influential during the times leading up to a person’s passing away.
legacy communication: anything, really, created specifically with a legacy in mind. Typically it is something other than a written document. A woodworker can build a particular piece of furniture and in certain ways make that his or her legacy communication; an artist might prepare a sketchbook for that purpose; and a musician might create a particular recording to use as his or her legacy communication. See the posts for specifics (posts still to come).
legacy letter: essentially an expanded ethical will. It typically comprises things like stories that illustrate why a particular value is cherished, or expressions of specific thanks and gratitude perhaps for end-of-life kindnesses and care shown by certain others. It best includes reiterations of love for a child, wishes and hopes for a child’s future. Some include specific words of support and guidance for anticipated future times that one’s child (or other loved one) may experience deep distress and need some comforting. It can run a number of pages, but is distinguished from much lengthier memoirs, autobiographies, or accounts of a family’s history.
Lifespan Legacy: our term for ethical wills and legacy letters that we assist others in creating.
memoir: an accounting of an event or events by someone who witnessed or participated in them. Differs somewhat from autobiography in that a memoir typically does not span an entire lifetime, and is written specifically about a particular event or time period. Examples: a senator’s memoir of her time in office; an Olympic athlete’s memoir of her or his training for and winning of a gold medal; a photographer’s memoir of his time working in a war zone.
memorial service: whether religious or secular, formal or informal, this is a particular time, place and format for celebrating a person’s life and making note of, or mourning, a person’s passing away. Examples — a funeral, or a planned gathering quite some time after the death. Also, it can range from a simple to a very elaborate affair. Pre-existing rituals may be used, such as those found in various religious traditions, or the family and/or other involved survivors may create their own rituals to suit their community. Eulogies are typically read at these services — why not your ethical will?
Rule of No: Crucial to the creation of any ethical will or legacy letter. We strongly urge writers to guard against including anything in an ethical will that is less than one’s kindest self. See the posts on the Rule of No for details.
Rule of Yes, corollary to the Rule of No: include all the kindness, compassion, understanding, love, and forgiveness of which you are capable. How do you want to be remembered? See the posts for details.