Let me show you my God.
He is not an old man in the sky.
Transcendence, Immanence, the Holy One,
all that and more.
My God makes house calls.
I don’t see him.
I feel him behind my right shoulder.
We rejoice in the morning sun,
with flowers or snow, squirrels and birds.
When sorrow comes he says,
Don’t worry, we will get through this together.
Now, tell me about your God.
Writing Legacy Letters
Naomi’s poem continues to bless friends and strangers alike — nourishing us even after she has passed away. Her words are her legacy.
Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Rachel Freed (see below) urge us to write legacy letters as a way of fulfilling our late life responsibility to pass on lessons learned and family stories to future generations. For this privilege, we harvest our lives to identify what really matters and choose words which convey to specific loved ones the meaning of our experiences. We can leave these letters to be read after we die, or we can send them to honour recipients on special occasions (e. g., letters of gratitude for a mentor on her 80th birthday or a father on the day he moves into a nursing home.)
Letters of Appreciation acknowledge our connectedness with those who have contributed to the inner richness that we come to feel as elders. The urge to communicate what people really mean to us — how they nourished us and how we have benefited from knowing them — grows as elderhood takes root in our psyches. Letters of appreciation — written to children, a spouse, close friends, relatives, neighbors and spiritual teachers who influenced our development — honors the relationship and widens our circle of compassion.
~ Zalman Schacter-Shalomi
I am working this fall with a group to develop guidelines for “Writing Blessings for Family, Friends and the World.” Stay tuned for another blog on blessings – the heart of legacy letters – in six months or so.
Write a brief ethical will (legacy) to be read when you are gone. In it list all the qualities you are giving to your loved ones, your children and grandchildren, your friends — what you want to be remembered for and what you hope of you will live on in them (from Joan Chittister).
For example: I leave to my son Dennis and grandson Aleksander my joy in running and playing ball sports; For the earth I leave my love of sunlight through the trees at dawn, afternoon, and dusk; To my husband I leave the patience and calm (such as they are) which I have learned from him to cultivate.
Aging in Community Perspective
Two thoughts come to mind regarding our theme and community. First, we can seek out opportunities to help an older person write down blessings and legacy letters for their loved ones. Second, we can form a support group to foster the writing of legacy letters by its members. This latter option is likely to overflow naturally into helping others outside the group.
Your Legacy Matters: Harvesting Love and Lessons of Your Life
Rachael Freed; Minneapolis MN: Minerva Press, 2013.
Rachael Freed, social worker and marriage-family therapist, is a fellow of the University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing. She consults, lectures, and designs workshops on writing legacy letters. Out of this innovative experience, she has written this book and created the website life-legacies.com.
Legacy Matters is based historically on religious traditions of blessing younger generations and writing ethical wills to accompany one’s legal will. Freed invites older adults to harvest lessons from their lives to write letters of appreciation and to offer blessings on special occasions. In addition, letters to be read after our deaths can convey our values and hopes for the future as well as elaborate on our choices regarding advance directives and our material legacy.
Writing legacy letters can fill needs of late life personal development, Freed writes, including the need to belong, be known, be remembered, make a positive difference, bless and be blessed, and celebrate life.
Freed offers specific suggestions and many examples of different types of letters. The structure of a typical legacy letter, for example, follows this template: Setting the context, Personal story, Learning (to give deeper meaning to the story), and Blessing for the recipient. This format assists the writer to avoid instructions, but rather to create a message connecting to the recipient in “I” language vs “you” language, with a feeling of spaciousness. Emphasis upon personal memories and lessons learned naturally calls out our unique message. Throughout learners are invited to reflect on the process of writing drafts, blessings and letters.
Click here for complete Book Review: Freed13LegacyMatters
With this grandparenting shadow photo,
I bid you adieu