In an age where computers enable instant communication,
you seldom if ever get a handwritten letter. I was approached
earlier this year by an acquaintance who wanted to compose a
letter to his family, but didnt know quite how to start
and how long to make it.
Having done about 100 oral histories, a number of them
serving as the oral historian for the Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory for two years, then doing them gratis for historical
societies in Livermore, California, and back here, I do have
some ideas to share with those contemplating a final message,
generally to be opened upon a persons passing.
Sometime ago, I clipped out an article about final
letters to loved ones, and tucked it away in a file box.
Usually my old clippings never see the light of day again, and
eventually the boxes get tossed. But I am glad I retrieved that
First, one may ask, why bother to write something when
you can tell your family or close friend(s) in person what you
are feeling? Two possible reasons I can offer:
1. You are in the final stages of life and need help composing
it, but dont want family to see it at this point.
If a person is not inclined to pen a personal letter,
there are other methodsa computer, video recording, stored
on a flash drive or CD among them. But put it in a safe deposit
box or wherever you keep your valuable documents (even with your
2. Your family is scattered in several states and it is not always
convenient to assemble them in one place to talk about what they
have meant to you or what legacy (advice) you want to leave them.
I am not talking about legal documents listing your possessions
or how your estate is to be divided just a very personal
message to loved ones or extended family who have meant a lot
to you over the years. I know that some people have recorded
a message, either on tape (now it would be a CD or flash drive)
or video. I have done that myself, but more as an oral history
than a message to the loved ones I may leave behind.
So, accumulating what I have read and done myself, here
are some thoughts:
Tell your family how much they have meant to you and how
they played a valuable role in your life (if true).
Confess any wrongdoing or slights you may have committed
so your conscience is clear as you depart this tired old globe.
Forgive anyone who might have been estranged from you
for any reason, although it might not have been you who caused
the separation (this might not include former spouses).
Tell your children and grandchildren how they have made
your life fulfilling (if true) and give them any advice that
might help them as they age.
Reminisce about some special occasions or moments in your
life that meant a lot and thank those who made this possible.
Finally, in your letter or recording, tell them how much
you loved them and encourage them to have a good life, not dwell
on losing you, but remember the great times you had together.
However, it is not a good idea to express regret over lost opportunities
or the fact you spent too little time with loved ones.
So what about the gentleman I helped compose his final
thoughts? We ended up doing it as sort of an interview, then
composed it on a computer (with his real signature). It now resides
in his safe deposit box to be opened upon his death.