With the recent earthquakes and violent storms, I’m feeling a need to be prepared for the future. However the dill pickles and tomatoes I’ve been canning this week are not nearly as significant as another type of preparation I’ve been thinking about.
Many of us (including me) think we have plenty of time to complete our personal histories. We want it to be just right. We want it to include as much of our lives as possible. But what if we don’t have time to write the big wonderful autobiography we have planned. A lesser type of personal writing is a memoir—writing about just one aspect or time period of our lives. Or what about beginning with just one paragraph or one page or just one letter?
My daughter Rachel was killed in a car accident when she was only 29. She left two little girls that will someday wish for a letter to them from their mother. My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Zimmerman Lamb, wrote a journal, beginning at age 69. I wrote about it here. My favorite part is the place where she addresses her granddaughters. She thought about me!
In the scripture, the most touching and long-lasting words are those that are recorded at the end of a prophet’s life. See these words. Or these. A deathbed pronouncement is important legally and emotionally to loved ones. After someone has died, we often long for something of that person’s to hold onto, to keep bright when memories fade. A legacy letter or an ethical will can be just such an item.
We don’t have to distribute it immediately. We can revise it later or include it in the magnum opus type history we are planning to write someday. But maybe life will surprise us and that one thing we wished we could say will already be written when it is needed. It’s easy to let perfectionism stop us from doing something as important as this. How about just a first draft? How about thinking out loud into a recorder? Let me think for a minute about my life. What is important to me? If I could only say one more thing, what would it be? How about a letter to someone we love, maybe someone we can’t talk to right now? I have done that on occasion, like this day.
An excellent 7 part “how-to” course on writing an ethical will has been posted by Dan Curtis. He reminds us that such a letter is not about getting even or giving advice to another person. It’s about me (or you) and how I feel about life. It takes some reflection and even some time, but it can be done in small segments of quiet time. Dan suggests some exercises to discover our values. He suggests that we include specific things that we are grateful for and life lessons we have learned from the important individuals in our lives. Dan reminds us to ponder the important process of forgiveness and include some of that in our writing. We have all made mistakes. Asking for forgiveness is an important part of the finishing work we are doing here. If you like, you can include regrets, achievements and hopes in your ethical will. And Dan also gives us some instructions on how to put it all together. Add some final thoughts—decide how you would like to distribute or read it to your loved one(s).
Family history writing is important. I’ve talked about it over and over in this blog. But this specific personal writing may be the most important we will ever do. Will we do it? Will I?