By Kevin Reardon CFP®
Family Love Letters
What are family love letters?
We have all heard stories of someone on their death bed who said, “there are some things that I have always wanted to tell you,” or the survivor who lamented “I wonder what Mom or Dad thought.” Imagine if each of us, in the final moments of our life, have the peace of mind knowing that nothing has gone unsaid. Taking this a step further, imagine the joy and comfort your loved ones will have reading a personalized family love letter from you, after you are gone.
The Family Love Letter, also called an Ethical Will, provides each of us the opportunity to say the most important things to our most important people.
What to Say
So how do we write our own family love letters? Family love letters typically communicate a few core components, including your core values, family history, and issues related to legacy. More than anything, it’s an opportunity to tell your most important people what lies deep in your heart. Perhaps you are saying you are sorry for past grievances, simply saying “I love you” one last time, sharing with them what has been most important to you as you navigated through life, or maybe you are encouraging them to continue to pursue their dreams.
As I began my research for this blog, I stumbled across a great handout that helps us draft this wonderful gift of a letter(s). Use this handout as a beginning point in formulating what is most important to you and the items you want to communicate.
What Not to Say
Do not use family love letters to pass final judgment or to say “I told you so.” Make sure your letter has no inklings of criticism or scolding. Your last words will not only be written in permanent ink; but more importantly, they will be forever etched in the hearts of your loved ones. Even little suggestions about how your family should live their lives can, and probably will be, viewed as strong arming from the grave. This is your last opportunity to provide an emotional hug and leave no doubt you are their biggest fan.
Who do you Love?
Write letters to your most important people. This will likely include your spouse and children. Imagine the impact you could have on your grandchildren if they receive a love letter from you on your passing. If your parents and siblings are alive, your letter could provide incredible comfort, and maybe even one last opportunity to tease those who have been with you from the beginning. Letters do not need to be limited to family. You could include your closest friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Perhaps you want to acknowledge or make peace with your ex-spouse or partner.
Share the gifts of laughter, experiences shared, and community. Ask your loved ones to gather on your birthday or the anniversary of your death to share a toast, favorite stories, or simply to give each other a hug on your behalf. Challenge family members to gather in a new place each year, or in far away places. Organize a scavenger hunt that leads your loved ones to gifts of family mementos or heirlooms.
To provide a little extra surprise for your family, consider putting together a short video message to them. Our cell phones are equipped with excellent video capabilities. Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other computer software has the ability to record videos, and is surprisingly easy to operate.
Give special thought to who will be your ‘letter carrier,’ when they will be delivered and where you want them to be read. Think about a place that your loved ones may feel a special connection to you. This might be your favorite coffee shop, family cottage, hunting camp, hiking trail, or the dining room table where you played Sheepshead or Scrabble for years at a time. I want my kids to read their letters at the fishing camp in Northern Ontario my Dad first brought me to 40 years ago; I’ve brought my boys there since they were little. Wherever you have the strongest connection to each other is a great place for your letters to be read.
Shakespeare’s electronic Vault is an excellent tool for organizing and storing your most important documents. We are happy to store your love letters, and to participate in their distribution when you are gone.
Struggling to say the perfect thing can often prevent us from saying anything at all. It is important that we write our love letters now. None of us knows if today may be our last. After your first drafts, continue to edit your letters until you are happy with the final product. God willing, your edits could go on for years. Perhaps a love letter written today is attached to a letter written in the future. Showing your loved ones what you were thinking at various stages of life could be a precious gift.
One Final Thought
We don’t have to wait until we are gone to say the things people would have loved to hear while we (and they) are alive. After all, there’s no guarantee that they will still be alive when we pass. There are many who leave this earth not knowing how much they meant to people. Consider writing and distributing love letters to your loved ones the next time you are together, or in your special place. Consider making this an annual event. Imagine the excitement and anticipation the second or third time you deliver your love letter, and the discussions you can have while you are alive. When it comes time to read your final love letter, it will have an even greater impact.