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Legacy Letters

Families are funny things.

Sometimes, a family member can also be a best friend. But all too often, childhood competition and conflict break families apart. Even as adults, the ties of family – which we’re told should be the strongest – don’t survive.

I’m one of five siblings. We weren’t close growing up but, over the years, we’ve settled some of our differences and found common ground we can all deal with. Not easy, but greatly rewarding.  But one of my best friends can’t even talk to her sister because of the hurts they both carry.

Parent/children relationships can be even more difficult. Another friend, an older man, has six children, half of whom won’t speak to him. He isn’t sure what to do with the animosity these grown kids have toward him. I can tell it bothers him, especially on Father’s Day and Christmas.

At first, he decided to leave them out of his will. But he realized how final – and irreconcilable – that would be. Instead, he’s decided to write legacy letters to his family, hoping to open a dialogue or, in the worst case scenario, to tell them how he feels after his death.

Legacy letters are simple but powerful tools which can help bring clarity to a relationship. Added to a legal will, they can even create a lasting record. But, more importantly, they may become the last contact a family member has with you. A ‘love letter’, a celebration of life, a sharing of memories, a heartfelt apology, they can be a way to communicate what you truly feel.

Some of us are lucky and can express our feelings directly to the person we love. Some of us connect better in writing. If that’s the case with you, here are five tips to help you get started.

  1. Consider carefully who you are writing to.

A legacy letter could also be called a ‘love letter’ – a love letter to someone you care deeply about. If you could sweep away the emotion and look at that person objectively, would you truly want to hurt them? Of course not! So, speak to them from that love. Tell them the wonderful things you know about them, the memories you share. Let them know that they are important to you.

2. Consider carefully what you want to say.

Don’t lie. Don’t blame. Don’t point fingers. Now’s not the time to defend yourself or try to make someone else take responsibility. It’s much better to write about the good things you remember.

Even if there are no hurt feelings involved, it’s important to keep negativity out. Often, these are people who have known you longer and better than anyone else in the world. Certainly, they’ve seen you at your best – and very possibly at your worst.

3. Consider carefully the emotional impact you will create.

It’s okay to touch on sensitive subjects. If there’s something that needs to be said, say it. But be honest. Think about what you would like to be told by someone you love. Tell them you cherish them and the life you’ve shared.

4. Consider carefully the apology you make.

“I’m sorry” are the two most powerful words in the English language. We all make mistakes. Many of them! And, unfortunately, there are no do-overs. A simple and sincere apology may not be enough to fix all the problems between you and a loved one, but it’s a great start.

5. Consider carefully how you will share the letter with them.

Are you writing the letter to give to them while you’re alive? If so, you’ll need to consider how it will be delivered. By mail? By hand? Through another person? When would be the best time for them, since reading it could be emotional for them?

Or, after your death? These letters can be included in your will or important papers, or delivered by an attorney.

A legacy letter can be the precious thing you leave behind. I encourage you to sit down right now and write one to the people you love. They don’t take a lot of time, once you decide what you want to say – probably only 30 minutes or so per letter.

Who would you most have liked to receive a legacy letter from?

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