By Rachael Freed, LICSW, LMFT
Writing my spiritual-ethical will was life changing for me.
I began to experience myself and my life as precious. I realized
that the way I approach my own dying process and how I ask to be
treated at death is as important as any other thing I express to my
children and grandchildren.
Document what you love about your life.
Reflect on your values and what you value about your life.
• Write sentences that begin with either: “What I love about my
life is...” or “What I will miss when I die...”
• Write only one thing in each sentence. Be specific.
• Write things that only you know about, things that you care
deeply about, that will die with you if you don’t record them.
Consider and feel how these things make your life delicious and
• Complete these sentences as many times as you can in the allotted
• Wander through all the aspects and components of your life.
Consider your passions as well as your values.
• Take time to focus your attention on your senses: smelling,
touching, hearing, seeing, tasting. For example, “I love the sound
of a canoe paddle dipping into a calm lake.”
• Consider relationships, social, family, communal and private
moments that you value.
• Move gently from memory to meaning, from the present to the past,
from home to the whole planet. For example, “I’ll miss seeing my
kids’ and grandchildren’s lives unfold.”
• Time yourself, and limit your writing to no longer than fifteen
(15) minutes. Date your writing.
Your process writing probably will not
appear in your spiritual-ethical will, but it may weave threads of
your thoughts and feelings to help you shape your legacy document.
Give yourself adequate time to reflect on and record your process.
Here are some thoughts to ponder:
• What was it like to write candidly, to move beyond your internal
censor, to express what you love about your life and what you’ll
miss when you’re gone?
For me, the experience was bittersweet. I felt weepy immediately,
aware that one day I would not be here enjoying this life. At the
same time I felt incredibly fortunate to have a life full of
beauty, love and meaning. Renowned author and psychotherapist,
Irvin Yalom, poses the issue clearly: “What happens after we die is
not really the problem. The challenge for us is how we live between
now and then, whether we have the courage to stop denying it
[death] and use our anxieties to live more authentic,
meaning-filled and purposeful lives.”
Consider ways you might use this exercise in your spiritual-ethical
• You may decide to include it just as it is, in your own
handwriting (a powerful and unique way to be remembered), providing
a snapshot for your loved ones of who you really are and what
matters to you. It may include seeds for new blessings to plant for
• You may want it to be read by a loved one at your memorial
service. It may suggest specific flowers you’d like at your grave
site. For example, Vicki may want to have “fragrant springtime
paper whites, freshly cut stately white tulips, white lilies and
daisies” at her memorial service.
Reflect on your experience of the death and mourning rituals
observed for your loved ones. Consider things you can do now to
make those losses more emotionally or spiritually complete.
• How does the way death has been handled in your family or
cultural group impact the choices you want to make regarding your
Consider the significance of silence about death and dying.
• When does silence come from feelings and beliefs within you, and
when from pressure from your family tradition and cultural
• Are there death and dying situations when silence is
• What is the positive value of silence at a time of loss and
• How has silence affected death practices in your life?
• What support do you need should you choose different rituals
regarding your death?
• How can you include your preferences in your legacy document?
As habitual caretakers many women work tirelessly, hoping to
deliver our loved ones from suffering and sadness. Until I went to
Al-Anon, I had no clue about the impossibility of succeeding at
this goal. Now I understand that our loved ones will be bereaved by
our deaths, and they have the right, the need and the
responsibility to mourn their loss. The grieving process involves
re-constructing a relationship which allows for a continuing and
changing bond with the deceased.
Consider the consequences to a culture that avoids and denies
death. All of us are affected; each of us is personally wounded,
stripped of integrity and wholeness. Deprived of speaking our
grief, we fail to honor our bonds with our ancestors. Other results
include taking our life and its preciousness for granted. We live
with the pretense and the false hope of limitlessness. As a result
we are prone to procrastinate. Where is the urgency to do anything
if we live as if we have forever? We make healthcare about cure,
not care. When there’s no cure, both the patient and the medical
professionals fail. There’s no place for acceptance of the reality
of bodily death nor appropriate preparation for it. We neglect
decisions and plans for the end of life – including writing a
spiritual-ethical will – cheating future generations of our
blessings, love and wisdom.
Excerpted from Chapter 4, "The Women’s Legacies Workbook
for the Busy Woman"
Copyright © 2005, Revised edition 2008 Rachael Freed
Who Needs a Will?
The Value of Reminiscing
Get It Together Now: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won't
Also by Rachael Freed:
Breaking the Silence: Death through the Lens of Legacy
Creating a Legacy: Writing a Spiritual-Ethical Will
Rachael Freed, LICSW, LMFT, is a
Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for
Spirituality and Healing. Her work empowering ordinary people to
document their legacies and create spiritual-ethical wills can be
accessed in her books,
Women's Lives, Women's Legacies: Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings
to Future Generations and The
Women's Legacies Workbook for the Busy Woman. More at www.life-legacies.com and 612-558-3331. A pioneer in
family-centered care in life-threatening and chronic illness, she
founded Minnesota's first hospital-based program for families of
the dying, and is the author of
Heartmates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart
resources for the emotional and spiritual recovery for families of
Image credit: cote/Flickr Creative Commons