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

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.

Photo by HelenMary/StockXchng

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Comment by Cathy Fullarton on July 23, 2010 at 9:40am
Reading your article has made me realize that I am providing my children with a special gift for years to come. Thank you for posting on this. I pray other moms will see this and be inspired to write down the essay with their thoughts for their children to treasure.
Comment by violet la pollo on May 1, 2010 at 7:35pm
I have written my adult children each a letter ,letting them know how they were loved and bought so much happiness in my life and there was never a moment of them to feel regret for anything,just thanked them for loving me as much as I have loved them and to please not mourn for to long as I have done and still doing for my husband,I told them what and where their things I left would be and also all the cards they have given me with a message of my love written on the back,each is in a large envelope to open when they feel the time is right,my love is the most cherished gift I could leave them along with written notes that the home shall be sold and divided equally between all three as their love I felt for them was threefold i know how devastated they will be and only hope my letters and poems will be of some help
Comment by Jan Kay Keen on March 29, 2010 at 5:53pm
My Last Goodbye, has been taken care of, believe it or not! I've come close to death 4X and even all my Drs cannot believe I'm still alive! I just had my 3rd brain tumor surgery after my last NHL, and then had to go in for a brain shunt. I should look at my last agreement with the Funeral Home that I chose to be in charge and make sure its all the same. I think its over 10 years ago that it was taken care of. Thanks for the reminder!
Jan Keen
Comment by Jan Kay Keen on March 29, 2010 at 5:49pm
Dear Marika,
It is so strange how life works! First I had custody of the twins, and then they chose to live with their dad...he had more money! Then one of the twins decided to live with me and I bought him a new motorcycle. His dad couldn't be outdone, so he went and bought a bigger bike for his brother. I have to say I'm relieved of not being the one who was taking care of him, but after it was done and he died, his dad almost committed suicide. I'm so glad that we all got rid of our motorcycles even though there are times I don't blame the bike! Its usually the driver that creates the accident and his dad had to buy the bike that is hard to control. Sorry I'm rattling on and on, and not much in the subject of this. I think its because of this month being his birthday, and next month being his death. Thanks for putting up with me. Jan Keen
Comment by diane Toffelmire on March 17, 2010 at 9:35am
I do want to leave a special letter to each of my children. I don't plan on leaving this world anytime soon but I am going to get started on this project I only wish my parents and my husband had left something like that for me.
Comment by Marika on March 12, 2010 at 3:30pm
How do you say goodbye to a daughter that has nothing to do with you ?

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