Post by: Jonathan Wray, My Data Diary+ User (Originally posted April 11, 2020)
My husband, Jonathan, recently gave our children a gift they will cherish forever.
I invited him to share the experience of writing and sharing his Legacy Letter in this month’s blog post.
When I turned 50 earlier this year, I found myself in that place that many men find themselves: nostalgically and critically evaluating myself, my accomplishments, and my contributions. I didn’t find myself in a rut of self-pity about the things I didn’t do because bottom line, fame and accomplishment are fleeting. Even the most accomplished persons become whispers in time, and I never set out to be remembered.
My wife is a Certified Senior Advisor and often talks with her clients about writing a Legacy Letter for their families to have after they are gone. A Legacy Letter is a written document of your values, experiences, and hard-earned life lessons and can also express hopes, blessings, explanations, forgiveness, and gratitude. Having listened to her share how meaningful a Legacy Letter can be for a family, I decided it was time to write my own.
After an enormous amount of self-reflection, I realized that the better part of my life had been about being a dad, being the best dad I knew how to be, and in the process of looking back, I realized that there were many things I wanted my kids to know and remember. These are things I could rarely vocalize because I am an emotional introvert. Like many people, the emotional conversations (good or bad) are very hard for me.
Stealing a few moments here and there, I spent several hours at the keyboard letting the words and emotions flow. It felt somehow easier behind the security of a keyboard to say the things I never could out loud. And, what started out as a simple letter became a nine-page essay. But, I had a lot of ground to cover. Having rationed my words When for more than 20 years, I realized I had a lot to say.
Legacy letters are personal and there’s no formula, but I feel like mine covered all the bases. I included my personal bucket list items (silly and grand alike), the importance of marrying the right person, how much my children were loved and what I loved about them as individuals. I included my happiest memories, my moments of greatest pride and joy, and my dreams for their future.
My children now know that all I want is for them to be happy. Yes, I shared my legacy letter. I relished in watching their reactions as they read it: there was laughter, there were tears, and there was a lot of “What part are you on?” After my family finished, it was great talking about the things I had shared with them and revisiting fond memories. Most people assume that a legacy letter should be shared after death. But I, disagree. Sharing my legacy letter with my family just created one more memory with the people I love most.
My son had a football coach who once told his team that you should enjoy every game and every play like it was your last. You never know when your time on the field will come to an end. While I wrote my letter before the stark reality of COVID-19, I am grateful that I took the time to put those thoughts on paper because the only certainty in today’s world is constant uncertainty. This disease spares no one and it doesn’t matter if you’re the Prince of Wales or the Prince of Plumbing, we are all at risk and tomorrow could be the beginning our last days in the game of life.
Legacies and legacy letters are not limited to the elderly. It doesn’t matter if you are 24 or 84, we all leave an impact on those closest to us. Whether it’s sitting down and writing a legacy letter, or having a live conversation, take a moment to let those closest to you know that they are loved and to share the things about yourself that you would like them to know and remember. Trust me; you’ll be glad you did!
Jonathan Wray is the spouse of Darra Wray, a Care Consultant and Certified Senior Advisor in Boise, Idaho. Darra founded My Care Companions and My Data Diary, LLC to help family caregivers streamline and simplify the business of life.