Friday, July 28, 2006

Recording Family Stories for Your Ethical Will

Family stories can be an important part of your ethical will. You may be the last person in your family who remembers a story that you'd like to pass along to future generations. Or, you may want to tell a story about yourself that you'd like remembered.

Hearing your voice telling the story can be especially moving for those who care about you. Your loved ones will cherish the family stories and remembrances from your life that you've taken the time to record or videotape.

For a sampling of memorable life stories that could be part of someone's ethical will, I recommend listening to the stories that "StoryCorps" has been offering on PBS Radio. The story I heard today by pediatrician, John Bancroft, telling his daughter about a young patient touched that place in my heart that releases a stream of tears.

StoryCorps - Listen

Take a few moments to listen to some of the stories. Then think about family or personal stories you may like to record. When you're ready, tape record or videotape yourself telling the stories (or ask a family member or friend to help you do it). Make your stories part of your ethical will. You may also want to transcribe your recorded stories so you have a written version to preserve for the future (in case the recording technology changes as much in the next 25 years as it did in the last 25 years!).
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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Poetry in Your Ethical Will

When I read Julia Kasdorf's poem What I Learned from My Mother (from her book, Sleeping Preacher) in our local newspaper recently, I thought "what a great poem for an ethical will!".

Here's a link to Kasdorf's poem which Ted Kooser, U.S. poet lauerate, included in a recent "American Life In Poetry" column:

What I Learned from My Mother

It inspired me to think about adding a few poems that I've written over the years to my ethical will. That means digging through old journals to find poems that I'd like to include. It could take awhile but may be just what I need to get them "organized" (or, at least see if there are poems I'd like to keep for future reading "when I get old").

Have you included poems you've written in your ethical will? Or some prose writing from earlier in your life? Let me know if you have. And, if you're willing to share what you've written, please e-mail me or add your poems to our blog "comments".
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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Writing A Personal Legacy Letter

Similar to an ethical will but usually shorter in length, a personal legacy letter is written to share what has been most important in your life with the most important people in your life. It should speak from your heart in your own voice. The words you write can bring a deeper meaning to your life in the present as well as create healing in your relationships.

A personal legacy letter is intended to be shared with loved ones while you are still alive rather than being read at your funeral or memorial celebration. You may want to create a special occasion to read your letter to family and friends or include your letter reading as part of a birthday, anniversary, or holiday celebration. Be sure to let people know your intention for writing and reading your letter to them and, if you desire, invite their responses.

Following is an outline for a personal legacy letter which I have adapted from an excellent book, Nothing Left Unsaid:Creating a Healing Legacy With Final Words & Letters by Mary Polce-Lynch. Before using the outline, decide who you are writing to – family members and friends or an individual -- then use the suggested topics in the outline as you see fit. Keep in mind that what you are writing is a heartfelt gift, given in a spirit of love and caring for those who receive it.

Personal Legacy Letter of ___________________

Today’s Date ____________

Dear __________________________,

At the age of ____, I am writing this letter to you to share the personal legacy of my life. My intention is to let you know my thoughts and feelings about the life I have lived, to honor the relationships that have enriched my life, and to express my gratitude for __________________.

Reflections on my values and life lessons:

What I have valued most in my life is . . .

My life experience has taught me . . .

My special memories and cherished moments:

Some of my special memories are of . . .

I especially cherish the moments when . . .

Reflections on my spiritual beliefs:

What has given me strength in difficult times is my faith in . . .

I believe . . .

Expressions of any regrets and forgiveness:

I regret the time when . . .

I forgive . . .

I ask for your forgiveness for . . .

Future hopes and wishes:

My hopes for all of you include . . .

I ask that you . . . (any special requests) . . .

Expressions of gratitude and love:

Last thoughts and blessings:

If I were saying “good-bye” to you today for the last time, I would want you to know . . .

May your lives be blessed with . . .

Your handwritten signature:

Please feel free to copy of this document to pass along to people you know and use it as a guide for interviewing people who would like your help in writing their own personal legacy letter.

I'd appreciate hearing from people who've used this outline and are willing to share what they've written (anonymously, of course).

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Old Dad" Creates A Video Legacy for His Young Son

I love learning about new ways that people are creating life legacies to share with future generations of their family. Much to my surprise and delight, this week I read about a one in the Portland Business Journal. Their publisher, Craig Wessel -- a self-described "old dad" at the age of 47 -- writes about the videotapes he is creating to give to his young son when he reaches the age of 21.

On a semi-regular basis, Craig talks on video to his son "as though I were talking to him when he is 21. I tell him about what is happening in our lives right now. I tell him about our family history. I tell him about all the stuff that I'll tell him over the next 16 years that I know he'll forget or not listen to -- the life lesson things that seem ever so painful to hear until the person telling you about them is no longer around. I introduce him to himself at 2, at 2 1/2, at 3 and do little interviews with him. We sing songs together for his 21-year old benefit. I'll be interviewing other family members over the years so he gets to know them when they were younger. There are all sorts of possibilities. I've only scratched the surface."

For your reading enjoyment, here's a link to the complete story:

Packing a few extra burdens to lighten a son's journey

Thank you, Craig, for sharing the unique way you're creating a life legacy for future generations of your family and for blessing your son with a gift that most every son (and daughter) would love to have received from "old dad".
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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Learning From Our Elders

My highest vision for my work with people to create and share their personal life legacies is to birth (or midwife) a society in which the wisdom of elders is honored and taken to heart in important life decisions of individuals, organizations, and nations.

In my lifetime of over 60 years, the wisdom of our elders has hardly been considered -- much less taken seriously -- in decisions of our nation and organizations. And the wisdom of women (especially, elderly women) has largely been ignored.

I wonder how different my life would have been if my grandmothers and grandfathers could have shared their life lessons with me. Would I have listened and taken their wisdom to heart in my life's decisions? Would my values be different?

And I wonder how different our country would be if our leaders (and followers) considered the wisdom of women in our nation's governance. Somehow, I can't imagine that we would be fighting yet another war (this time "on terror") in which "old" uninitiated male leaders have once again sent "young" men (and more women than ever before) to die "to protect our way of life" or "to spread democracy" around the world.

These issues came to mind in my reading of William Bridges, The Way of Transition, in which he says that if elders "can perceive, understand, and appreciate the meaning of the meandering path they have followed, they can play a significant social role by helping younger people to understand the significance of the transitions in their own lives. They can help others to discover the deeper meaning (or developmental significance) of otherwise negative life events. For they have encountered the problems that signal a time of transition often enough to recognize them and take them seriously."

Bridges goes on to say that the elderly "can appreciate the tremendous value of living through times when letting go is the only appropriate response to life. Important though perseverance is, they know how easily it can turn into a refusal to get the message that life is trying to deliver. For in many cases, being unwilling to accept defeat -- though celebrated in the world of sports and warfare -- is a guarantee that one will never learn the lessons that must be learned if one is to mature."

"Old people, if they have learned from the transitions they have been through, grow more tolerant. They see that wholeness is the goal, and that to exclude anything is a brief and shallow victory that leads to ultimate defeat. They can help us to counterbalance our society's overemphasis on worldly success, not by scorning success but by disidentifying from the outcomes of the efforts that they, like anyone else, make. To do one's best and then to let outcomes be what they will is both to acknowledge realistically how often outcomes are beyond our control and to guard against the neurotic attempts at controlling how things turn out -- efforts that lead to everything from defensiveness to dishonesty."

Elders have "the good fortune to live in life's richest phase. That is not to say that they may not have pain and grief, but simply that they can at least see beyond life's window dressing. Their only inevitable sadness is that the living they can at last savor is also running out. But they can see and appreciate the lives they have lived as journeys that they have been on."
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