03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Legacy Writing: Lessons of a Decade


Getting back to basics, the 1, 2, 3 of legacy writing, is a refreshing and hopeful way to begin a new year and a new decade. It's more than an opportunity for a fresh start, and a recommitment to our healthy self-care routines after the holidays. It's also a time to reflect on this past year's and decade's experiences (before they fade away as mere memories) to see if there are any particular lessons our experiences taught us that we can share as legacies.

From "At the End of the Year"
. . . . We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.

~ John O'Donohue

Let's start at the beginning. Such reflection and writing (an ethical will or a legacy letter) lets us transmit what matters to us, the lessons that are most pertinent, to be our gift to future generations. When I reflect and write legacy letters to my loved ones, I deepen acceptance of my own limitations and my tolerance of others'. I find humor in much of what I have been so intense about and taken so seriously. I feel gratitude for the blessings I've received, and a renewed sense of purpose.

Beyond this, five additional needs are addressed as we write our legacy letters. They include our needs to: * belong, * be known, * be remembered, * bless and be blessed, and to
* have our lives make a difference.

At the new year, we feel the urgency of time, realizing that life is fragile, that we do not control the number of our days. We need to document our legacies to help shape this unfolding new world. Seniors especially feel the responsibility to transmit and preserve stories, learning and love as each year and each decade seem to pass more quickly than the last.

Both the calendar and our relationships are instrumental in shaping who we are. Because it may be difficult to know how and where to start, here is a step-by-step guide to help you begin:

Some Suggestions/10 Action Steps:

1. Bring your cup of tea or mug of coffee and your favorite pen and paper to your favorite, peaceful place to sit. Set your timer, reflecting or writing each time for no more than 15 minutes.

2. Take some time to review the past decade -- a hard one for many of us, and one often filled with national and personal loss and grief. The changes we've experienced this decade have been monumental. Some were hopeful and exciting; others left us feeling lost, frightened, and powerless.

3. Make a list of at least three happenings this decade that impacted you personally.

4. For each of these three happenings, consider what exactly the impact was, what you learned from it, and how you see the impact and its lesson have changed as you go forward.

5. Choose one of events and someone(s) in your life you'd like to share this with (the other two events can be saved for future legacy letters).

6. The first part of the letter describes or tells the story of the event or happening to provide and preserve a context.

7. Then write a paragraph to express and explain how that event made an impact on you personally.

8. Next share with your reader(s) what you learned from the event and how it has changed you, your present and future.

9. Then write about your hope that your insight will be a gift to your reader.

10. Close your letter with a relevant blessing to your readers for their future.

As 2010 begins, may your writing be a source of insight and wisdom for you, and a gift of blessing for those who come after you. ~ Rachael Freed

You can find out more about communicating and preserving your legacy (ethical will) at Email:

The author of Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations, Rachael is a Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, clinical social worker, adult educator, and legacy consultant. She is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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