Communicating and Preserving the Stories, Wisdom and Beauty of Your Life
Writing a loving testament of our values, life experiences, hopes and gratitude and sharing it with family is a life-affirming, profoundly spiritual and healing experience. Known as a legacy letter, the exercise enables people to pass on what they have learned, not just what they have earned. Putting pen to paper about life’s intangible assets is a way for people to preserve who they are and what matters most to them. It is a way to be remembered and understood and to make a real difference to younger and future generations.
Also referred to as an ethical will, a legacy letter is generally written from adults to the younger generation, but equally powerful is a tribute legacy letter, in which a younger person writes about the legacy they received from a loved one or mentor. There are a variety of legacy letters designed to enhance special circumstances and relationships in life, such as the caregiver relationship. Seeing an aging parent as a three-dimensional person is one of the many benefits of writing the letter with a parent or grandparent.
The letter can also be written at significant junctures in our lives, such as weddings and births. It is a living document to which new content can be added at any time. Every letter is as unique as its author.
Completing a life review, or reminiscing, is a key ingredient to writing the letter. Reminiscing helps people enjoy life more and has profound psychological, social and spiritual health benefits. In research published in the scientific journal International Geriatrics in 1992, seniors that participated in a structured evaluative life review process showed increased self-esteem, psychological well-being and life satisfaction and decreased depression.
Reminiscing in writing specifically is a therapeutic and healing process. A 2005 review of research published in Advanced in Psychiatric Treatment shows that expressive writing (writing about one’s emotions) lowers blood pressure, the pain of rheumatoid arthritis and asthma symptoms, and it boosts the immune system.
In reviewing the important events of our lives, the choices we’ve made and our struggles and triumphs, we gain clarity, insights and a deeper understanding of life, family relationships and our feelings and submerged memories. Through this cathartic experience, people often let go of pain, anger and resentment and discover peace within themselves and towards others.
Reflecting, clarifying and documenting a legacy is a gift to ourselves today and to those that come after us. By leaving a piece of our mind, we find peace of mind, knowing that nothing is left unsaid and that important stories are not forgotten.
Leah Dobkin is a professional journalist, author, gerontologist and founder of LegacyLetter.org. She offers writing services, workshops, classes and retreats to help individuals or their loved ones craft a legacy letter or memoir. Connect at 414-238-1577, Leah@LegacyLetter.org and LegacyLetter.org.