Maybe you’re an organized person. You have all your important paperwork in order. Your living will, trusts, and health care proxy are all settled. However, you are still missing one important part of preparing for the end of life. Every legal document in the world could not make up for the personal connections you have made throughout your life. They can not make up for letting those you cherish know how much you love and care for them. Writing a “last letter” to loved ones is not only important for those on the receiving end, but for you as well. While writing a last letter is likely going to be an emotional task, it will almost certainly leave a lasting imprint on those you love.
VJ Periyakoil is a gerontologist at Stanford University Medical Center. She has had dozens of conversations with those nearing end of life. Sadly, the majority of them speak of regret. Whether they have not told their spouse or child how much they love them, or apologized for something, regret is far too common in late life.
It can be extremely therapeutic and even healing to get your feelings down on paper. Yet it may feel overwhelming. Especially if your loved one is a child or family member you have cherished for many years, where should you begin? This article from AARP suggests general topics you could include in your last letter. Periyakoil started up the Stanford Letter Project, which offers templates if you would like some guidance on getting started.
Good letters often start with acknowledgement. Acknowledging the people you love and care for could mean expressing the things you appreciate about them. In addition, it is advised to tell them what you admire about them and how they impacted your life. Even if you have spoken these words to them, having them in writing is something extra special. They can cherish it for life, instead of simply trying to remember your words from twenty years ago.
The apology section is never easy. This is something that you may not want to include in your letter. But if you decide to, think of anything you regret from the past that has affected your loved one. It may not make up for the incident, but it will make all involved feel a little better.
Remember to incorporate forgiveness. Coming from a place of love, not spite, is the best way to go about writing a last letter to loved ones. You may have your whole life organized; trusts, wills, and all. But without letting those you love know how you feel, your work is really not done.