I recently listened to an NPR documentary about the life of a war correspondent working in Syria. She was debating about when and if she should leave for a job less dangerous. Near the end of the program she said that however and whenever she made that decision, she needed to write a letter to her husband and 4-year-old daughter now. She did, and read it at the conclusion of the program. The first sentence was: "If you're reading this, it means something terrible has happened."
Most of us are not in imminent danger in our everyday life or work, or so we believe. The 3,000 people who went to work at New York's Twin Towers the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 didn't think they were in danger. The people who crowded the finish line at the Boston Marathon this spring to celebrate the success of their beloved runners didn't think they were in danger. Earlier this week I attended a meeting in my condominium complex with a man; yesterday I returned home to find a message that he'd died from a heart attack taking his morning shower.
Please understand: I'm not trying to frighten you. I'm not proposing that we change our free and open way of life in any way.
I am writing you to remind you that none of us know when our time is up. I am writing to remind you of your love for the people in your life: your spouse or partner, your children and grandchildren, your extended families, your work colleagues, and your friends. I am writing to urge you to take time now to express that love. Tomorrow may be too late! While you have time, awareness, and access to your mind and heart, write a legacy letter telling your people of your love for them, what matters in your relationship with them, and what matters most to you in this world.
Here is a model I developed for workshops for a single-page letter that can be written in less than half an hour. (It's published with examples in Your Legacy Matters, my new book available now.)
The model provides a four-part structure to make writing legacy letters simple, uniquely personal, and meaningful. A one-page letter written in no more than 15 to 30 minutes using this model can be completed in four paragraphs: the first, context; the second, your story or experience; the third, the life lesson you learned from the story or experience told in paragraph 2; and paragraph 4, the closer, a blessing (the core of all legacy writing) that flows from your story and learning.
If you've taken the time to read this far, please sit down now, put your pen to paper, and let your love flow for those who will come after you!
Suggestions for Action:
1. Choose the person or persons who will receive today's letter.
2. Imagine that you're leaving for a vacation or a business trip and you've not told your loved ones everything you want them to know -- about you, about what matters most to you, about what you hope for them, that you love them beyond measure. What if fate has it that you don't return? Reflect about what's most important to write. Consider what specifically has meant most to you in your life, what you want to pass forward to them, how important they've been in your life, and what future wishes you have for them.
3. Here are details about the model to structure your letter if you choose to use it:
Context: Gives you the opportunity to fill in personal, family and a bird's eye view of history and the period of time of the story and learning.
Story: Everyone connects easily and emotionally to a story. No need for you to be a professional storyteller; just tell your experience in your own words.
Learning: Here you can be personal, imperfect, vulnerable, sharing who you really are -- beneath your public role -- and express what you learned from your experience, providing a deeper meaning under the story told in paragraph two.
Blessing: Emerging organically from your story and your learning, here you can express your love, caring, respect, devotion, and appreciation of the loved one to whom you're writing. Imagine that it's your very last opportunity to bless them with your love.
4. If you choose not to share the letter now, file the letter in an addressed envelope in a safe place (keep a copy in your hard drive or in the cloud). Tell your loved ones that you've written it and where they can find it should they need to.
May you write wholeheartedly, and
experience peace of mind -- Rachael Freed
NEW Available now: Your Legacy Matters: Harvesting the Love and Lessons of Your Life, a multi-generational guide for writing your ethical will." 2012 editions available of Rachael Freed's "Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations," "The Legacy Workbook for the Busy Woman" [also available as pdf downloads at www.life-legacies.com/books and "Heartmates: A Guide for the Partner and Family of the Heart Patient," and "The Heartmates Journal." Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator and works with financial, health, and religious organizations on legacy principles and practices. She has seven grandchildren. Her home is Minneapolis, Minn.
For more information, visit www.Life-Legacies.com and www.Heartmates.us.
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