Legacies for the Living as We Mourn the Losses of Newtown

There is no better time than now, when our hearts are simultaneously broken yet grateful for the presence of our own precious treasure, our children and grandchildren, to express our love for them.
01/03/2013 11:24 am ET Updated Mar 05, 2013

When we experience communal and countrywide mourning as we have because of the deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School this past month, we yearn to be able to do something positive. Of course, we can send our thoughts and prayers to the mourners and to the entire community so deeply wounded, perhaps for generations.

Here are two prayers from Anne Lamott's new volume, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers:

There are no words for the broken hearts

of people losing people, so I ask God

... to respond to them with graciousness

and encouragement enough for the day.

The second prayer is for the community of Newtown and us all.

"Help. Help us walk through this.

Help us come through."

Sad, that it takes an emotional tsunami to awaken us, but good that Newtown's losses have galvanized us as a nation to search our souls. Many of us -- usually more comfortable looking for something or someone to blame -- have an opportunity now to mourn the loss of lives, particularly children. We can continue to engage with others seeking answers about how it is that our nation, full with good people, is so violent, and how we can change that.

But in the meantime, as we honor those lost lives, we are aware of our natural relief and gratitude for our treasures, our children and those of our neighbors and friends who did not lose their lives at the hand of a gunman in Newtown.

There is no better time than now, when our hearts are simultaneously broken yet grateful for the presence of our own precious treasure, our children and grandchildren, to express our love for them. We know that life can change in the flash of a second; we know we don't control the length of our own days or that of others.

Though I don't presume to know how to heal you or me, I do believe it is better to engage and express than to isolate in silence. What we can do this very day, while our feelings are raw and our hearts are open, is take time to express our love and hug them permanently with a legacy letter: a letter they will cherish long after we're gone.

Suggestions for Action:

1. Begin by listing each child and grandchild's name... if you have no children, consider naming nieces and nephews, children of dear friends, children you teach or coach or know in some other context.

2. Then, prepare by taking all the time you need to remember something specific you love about each of them: perhaps a quirky, lovable idiosyncrasy, perhaps a value they live, a quality they radiate, an inspiration they evoke, the way they communicate, an accomplishment of theirs, some way they are uniquely who they are that opens your heart.

3. You may want to mention Newtown as a historical context that has helped you to see them and their preciousness more clearly... or not, depending on their ages and your inclination.

4. Other choices for you to make include: writing a generic letter with a personal sentence or two specific to each child, writing a personal letter to each child, or including within each personal letter a generic letter. Whichever choices you make will undoubtedly be exactly what each child needs.

5. After you've written a draft, set it aside at least overnight. You'll come back to it refreshed and may have something to add, delete, or change before your letter is in a final form that best expresses your love in your own words and style.

May you and your loved ones be blessed in this new year, 2013. And if I may borrow from Anne Lamott: "Help us walk through this."

Rachael Freed

For more by Rachael Freed, click here.

For more on the spirit, click here.

NEW 2012 editions now available of Rachael Freed's Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations, The Legacy Workbook for the Busy Woman [also available as pdf downloads at www.life-legacies.com/books and Heartmates: A Guide for the Partner and Family of the Heart Patient, and The Heartmates Journal. She is currently working on Your Legacy Matters: An Intergenerational Legacy Guide, to be published early 2013. Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator and works with financial, health, and religious organizations on legacy principles and practices. She has seven grandchildren. Her home is Minneapolis, Minn.

For more information, visit www.Life-Legacies.com and www.Heartmates.us.

Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/legacywriter.