“Writing a ‘Last Letter’ When You’re Healthy,” by Dr. V.J. Periyakoil (New York Times, 9.7.16), put me in mind of an annual writing exercise I do every New Year’s Day (or thereabouts). It’s a year-end review of the major experiences and events in my life from the past year, especially those related to work, hobbies, friends, family, health, travel, and so on.
To create my review, I go through my journals and calendar from the past year, then type up what I think is worth saving. Entries from recent years have included doing a presentation at the International Urban Wildlife Conference at the Lincoln Park Zoo in 2015; touring the “1968” exhibit at the Chicago History Museum with my long-time friend, Judy in 2014; and going solo to London, to celebrate my November birthday in 2013.
In Dr. Periyakoil’s article, the “Last Letter” refers to the Stanford Friends and Family Letter Project, which provides a template for doing a specific kind of life review.
As she writes, “[w]ith guidance from seriously ill patients and families from various racial and ethnic groups, we developed a free template for a letter that can help people complete seven life review tasks: acknowledging important people in our lives; remembering treasured moments; apologizing to those we may have hurt; forgiving those who have hurt us; and saying “thank you,” “I love you” and “goodbye.”
And what interests me most—and reminds me of my own less focused yearly review—is that people can use two different versions of the template: an illness letter and a healthy letter. Dr. Periyakoil says that people not confronting serious illness can “use the letter as a living legacy document and update it over time.”
Now “over time” doesn’t have to mean yearly as I do it, but it could. Or it could mean every six months or five years. Whatever the schedule, I think it's the regularity that matters most, the piling up of the reviews, rather than waiting to do one "final life review."
For starters, it might make that final one much shorter—especially the regrets, forgiveness, and apology sections.
To read the entire article:
And here’s a direct link to the template: http://med.stanford.edu/letter/friendsandfamily.html