You want to leave a last goodbye, but how can you do that today?
Getting your affairs in order, thinking of your own death, is emotionally hard. Even harder may be facing the task of creating a last goodbye for your loved ones. Almost any other task is more attractive, whether rain or shine, snow, gloom of night. Still, getting everything in order has an attractive pull: You know that your loved ones will cherish your goodbye—and you’ll be pleased when the task is done.
When you’re ready to take the plunge, here are some ideas for preparing a personal goodbye.
What kind of goodbye?
The type of goodbye that you prepare is limited only by your personal taste, interests, and imagination. Popular methods include:
For each method, you’ll want to consider how you can personalize it to reflect you and to appeal to the recipient. For a few of the more involved methods, here are some pointers to get you started.
• Write a personal letter.
First, you’ll want to think about those you will write to. Who is important to you? Who will be in charge of handling your affairs? Also consider how you want to write your letter. The most personal goodbye would be an individual letter to each person and, if possible, written in your handwriting.
In your letter, you might include thoughts about your death. What do you believe that moment will be like for you? Do you believe that death is the end? Or do you believe that you will see God and reunite with those who have already passed?
For each letter, identify what the person has meant to you, how he or she has blessed you, special times you’ve enjoyed, future milestones that you may miss. At the same time, if you find you have interactions that need mending, consider doing that now. You’ll not only enjoy a closer relationship now, but also your last letter can be sheer blessing.
If you have prepared a Get It Together planner, you’ll want to end your letter by referring your loved one (if an agent or executor) to the second section of your planner, Instructions. This section will then lead them through the tasks that will follow your incapacitation or death.
• Prepare an audio or video recording.
You have a number of options available if you want to create an electronic recording—including an audiotape cassette, audio CD, VHS videotape, or DVD video.
You can sketch an outline of what you want to capture, then simply record it yourself. Or you may ask someone to help you—with the outline, by interviewing you, or with the recording.
If you want additional help, visit your library or bookstore for a guide on documenting personal or family histories. For professional services, consider hiring a personal historian to help document your story—with your words, photographs, music, and even home movies—and create a videotape or DVD. To find a personal historian, visit the Association of Personal Historians at personalhistorians.org.
If you prepare an electronic recording, ensure that your loved ones will have the correct playback system available when the time comes. For example, if you record audio cassettes, you might also keep a cassette player on hand for their use.
• Create a personal memory album.
Your loved one will treasure a personal album that you create just for him or her. You can do this yourself—purchase a special scrapbook; fill it with written memories, photos, and mementos; and embellish with scrapbooking accessories. Or you can use an album service to create a personal, bound photo book at reasonable cost. To find a service, type “personal photo book” into your internet search engine.
• Arrange a personal email.
There are several online services that will hold your personal email until your death, then distribute it to those you’ve identified. To find a service, type “final email after death” into an internet search engine.
Leave direction for your loved ones.
Whatever type of goodbye you prepare, be sure to leave direction so that your loved ones find what you have left for them. You can write a note and leave it with your important records, so they will find it while they’re wrapping up your estate. Or, better yet, place your letters (or direction to find other goodbye materials) in your Get It Together planner in the first section, "Letter to Loved Ones."
It’s hard; for some of us, nothing is more emotionally challenging. If you’re mustering up all the love in your heart, fond memories, and thoughts of loss, the task may move you to tears. Still, be comforted in knowing how precious your goodbye will be to those you love—and the peace you will feel once your goodbyes are prepared.
Melanie Cullen is the author of Get It Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won’t Have To (Nolo), a workbook/CD-ROM for preparing and organizing your important records—for yourself and for your loved ones. She is a management consultant with TerraSys Consulting, Inc. and serves on the Projects@Work editorial board. She holds an MBA from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University.
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