One of my favorite things to do is attempt to clean out my office. I rarely get it done, though, because I usually find old pictures and love letters my late husband and/or kids have written to me. The pictures are fun to look at, but there’s something about those letters. Letters somehow represent time and attention. You care enough about someone to take the time to ponder the right words and write them down. It’s so connecting. It may be the most healing form of communication because it’s permanent. Letters can be read over and over.
One of the things we hear most often when we relate with people about our loss experiences is that when their parent/spouse/loved one passed away, one of the first things they did was look for something written that had their name on it. Whether it was a letter, a journal entry, a calendar, ANYTHING in their loved one’s handwriting that mentioned the survivor by name. So, here’s one of our HIGHLY RECOMMENDED things to add to your end-of-life planning to do list. Write letters to your people. A journal is for you. A letter is for them.
These written words don’t have to be a novel. Folks that are mourning often have very short attention spans anyway. Grief takes a lot of brain power. If you do need to write a tome, just know that it will take a bit for it to be fully processed.
Regardless of length however, here are a few things that might be considered:
Know Your Audience Consider the personality of who you’re communicating to. I have some in my life that appreciate wit and sarcasm. Others that absolutely do not. Some that prefer deeply vulnerable, raw honesty, and again, some that really do not. This is more of a letter TO THEM, not just a letter from you.
Be Specific and Personal I love a love letter. I love a love letter that tells me WHY I am loved. We all want to feel known and appreciated for who we truly are. Is there anything more uplifting than reading kind words that mention specific personality traits that are meaningful to the writer? It just feels like they paid attention. They noticed. Who I am mattered.
Gratitude Did the person you are writing to do anything nice for you or your people? Mention it! Let them know how it was helpful, how it was meaningful, why it affected you so positively. Express sincere gratitude to them, for them.
Happy/Fun/Funny Memories It’s so interesting to see what events stick out to people. I love hearing my kids talk about when they were younger and the things that were fun for them or had a positive memory attached to it. Some things I totally forgot about but had fun remembering with them as they reminisced. Some things I had no idea were so meaningful enough that it was a solid, good memory. How fun to learn more about your loved one by what they remember of life with you.
Hopeful/Helpful Counsel If you are writing to younger folks, this might be the time they actually listen to you. Again, considering your readers personality, what skills do you recommend they learn? What life lessons will be helpful? What things have you learned or experienced that bring you hope and comfort now, that might bring them hope and comfort later? Your wisdom, if given lovingly, will be (eventually? Lol) appreciated.
Keep it Positive This isn’t the time to re-hash old battles, open up old wounds. If you’ve struggled in the past, let it stay there. I mean if those struggles are the impetus of some growth and lessons learned, alluding to them might make sense. To say though, “I appreciated when you did_____, even though you were a jerk that one time” is not really the point of this exercise. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything…then go get therapy for the love of Pete! Get it worked out. Forgive. Get forgiven. Seriously, try not to leave your people with complicated grief because you left nonsense hanging over your heads. If nothing else, write about whatever good times you can remember. It will be comforting to all involved, including, if not especially, you.
One thing I thought was cool… a friend shared that in her family they write letters of appreciation to each other every year. On each person’s birthday, they get to read all the nice things from their parents and siblings. When one of them leaves the planet, they’ll have all kinds of written words of love from their loved one to read over and over. They can be comforted over and over. They’ll stay connected over and over. In the end, these won’t just be love letters. They will be love lines.
If you need further assistance or guidance, contact Prepare Your Affairs at email@example.com.
ACTION ITEM: Choose four people to write to this month and write one letter a week. If you don’t think you will stay on task, let us help you stay accountable in this endeavor. At the end of the month, feel free to share your letters to those people, or put them with all your important documents that Prepare Your Affairs can help you organize.
Corey and Katie entered widowhood in 2016 after losing spouses to cancer. They met and connected in a widow/widower support group and later married. One of the principles they learned from their own experiences and those of other surviving spouses is that the more prepared a surviving spouse is on a financial, legal, emotional, and practical level, the better they will adjust to widowhood. They will maintain their independence and control of their assets and be freer to properly grieve and move forward in life. Conversely, those who are not prepared are more likely to have their lives flipped upside down. They may need to move and uproot kids because they can't afford the mortgage, rely on family or other charities to financially support them, and/or change jobs to allow them to better serve as a single parent. We hope to share what we've learned and help other families properly get their affairs in order and be prepared with confidence, peace of mind, and in control of their assets.