Healing Through Writing: How to Write a Legacy Letter to Your Child

2012 was a year filled with heartbreaking tragedies, many involving children and teens shot and killed. On the anniversary of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin one year ago today, we share this excerpt from an article written by Rachael Freed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Freed explains how writing legacy letters to the children in your life can have a healing effect.


Legacy principles guide us always to look toward the future, to preserve what is good, express our love, and pass it forward.


As we honor children who lost their lives at the hand of a gunman, we are also aware of our natural relief and gratitude for our treasures – our children and grandchildren and those of our neighbors and friends who are still with us.    


We know that life can change in the flash of a second. We know we don’t control the length of our own days or others’. No better time than now to look deeply into our hearts to find words to express the precious treasure of our children. Writing a legacy letter lets us hug them permanently.


Writing helps us heal, brings us toward wholeness and helps us learn to love not fear, express not isolate or hide. Writing gives us a chance to leave helplessness behind and act in a way that brings light to those we love.


I am reminded of Merlin’s advice to King Arthur when he sought help for his broken heart. Merlin tells Arthur to “go learn something.” When last my heart was broken, my dreams and vision of a future lost, when my marriage was ending, I set about learning to read and write a foreign language... for the time that I studied and wrote, my heart was full and light, and healing began. Perhaps writing love letters to our children, letting them know our love and how precious they are to us, will help us heal.


Though I don’t presume to know how to heal you or me, I do believe it is better to engage and express than to isolate in solitary pain. What we can do this very day, while our feelings are raw and our hearts are open, is take time to express our love with a legacy letter: a letter they will cherish long after we’re gone.


Principles of Practice:

1. Begin by listing each child or grandchild’s name. If you have no children, consider naming nieces and nephews, children of dear friends, children you teach or coach or know in some other context.


2. Prepare by taking all the time you need to remember something specific you love about each of them: perhaps a quirky idiosyncrasy, perhaps a value they live, a quality they radiate, an inspiration they evoke, the way they communicate, an accomplishment of theirs, some way they are uniquely who they are that opens your heart.


3. You may want to mention Newtown [or another incident] as a historical context that has helped you to see them and their preciousness more clearly … or not, depending on their ages and your inclination.


4. Other choices for you to make include: writing a generic letter with a personal sentence or two specific to each child; writing a personal letter to each child; or including within each personal letter a generic letter. Whichever choices you make, they will undoubtedly be exactly what each child needs.         


5.  After you’ve written a draft, set it aside at least overnight. You’ll come back to it refreshed, and you may see something to add, delete, or change before your letter is in a form that best expresses your love in your own words and style.                


More articles by Rachael Freed:

• Leaving a Legacy: Spiritual-Ethical Wills

Writing Your Legacy

Breaking the Silence: Death through the Lens of Legacy

• The Ethical Will: 'The most important message I have ever written'


Rachael Freed 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 Patient, providing resources for the emotional and spiritual recovery for families of heart patients.

My Financial Legacy (A Guide for Women)Women's Lives, Women's Legacies: Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future GenerationsThe Legacy Workbook for the Busy Woman: A step-By-Step Guide for Writing a Spiritual-Ethical Will in Two Hours or Less

Image: Flickr Creative Commons / CGAphoto



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