The same feeling hangs in the back of mind every time the wife and I go on a trip without the kids. “What happens to the kids if tragedy were to strike?” This feeling could easily be squashed if my spouse and I just sat down and wrote it all out but it’s tough to talk about death — especially when life is going well.
This is the reason that Doctor VJ Periyakoil, a Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Stanford, launched the Stanford Friends and Family Letter Project. The project encourages patients to “open up a dialogue with their doctors and loved ones to communicate what matters most to them at life’s end.”
Dr. Periyakoil explained the idea behind the project in this New York Times piece.
“The most common emotion they express is regret: regret that they never took the time to mend broken friendships and relationships; regret that they never told their friends and family how much they care; regret that they are going to be remembered by their children as hypercritical mothers or exacting, authoritarian fathers.”
The project website offers three templates of last letters to help with the often uncomfortable process. These templates are the What Matters Most Letter, the Letter Project Advance Directive and the Friends and Family Letter.
The What Matters Most is a letter template allowing users to document what matters most to them and what treatments they want in the future but the Friends and Family Letter would seem to be the most popular with people.
“This Friends and Family Letterletter can help all adults complete their seven life review tasks: acknowledging important people in our lives ; remembering treasured moments in our lives; apologizing to those we may have hurt; forgiving those who have hurt us; and saying ‘thank you,’ ‘I love you’ and ‘goodbye’. Using this template, you can write a letter to your friends and family in one of eight languages using an online form.”
Here are the 7 most important tasks of last letters, explained by the Stanford Friends and Family Letter Project:
Task 1: Acknowledge the important people in your life.
Task 2: Remember treasured moments from your life.
Task 3: Apologize to those you love if you hurt them.
Task 4: Forgive those who love you if they have hurt you.
Task 5: Express your gratitude for all the love and care you have received.
Task 6: Tell your friends and family how much you love them.
Task 7: Take a moment to say “goodbye.”
This is a much better way to handle the situation, way more adult than the emails and texts the wife and I send to family before boarding the plane. “SUBJECT: Congrats! You get the kids should we perish!”
Everyone, no matter the age, needs a last letter. Don’t wait.