Writing a ‘Last Letter’ When You’re Healthy

I recently learned about the Stanford Letter Project, a movement founded by Dr. VJ Periyakoil, director of the Stanford Palliative Care Education & Training Program. You may have seen a piece on the project in the New York Times.

Over the last 15 years, as a geriatrics and palliative care doctor, I have had candid conversations with countless patients near the end of their lives. The most common emotion they express is regret: regret that they never took the time to mend broken friendships and relationships; regret that they never told their friends and family how much they care; regret that they are going to be remembered by their children as hypercritical mothers or exacting, authoritarian fathers.
And that’s why I came up with a project to encourage people to write a last letter to their loved ones. It can be done when someone is ill, but it’s really worth doing when one is still healthy, before it’s too late.

The project offers people a 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.”

There are some great stories in both the New York Times article and on the site itself, I encourage you to check them out and think about writing your own.

Photo by Kirsty TG

Giving Things Away in Your Lifetime

As we move beyond building our careers and families, and into that stage of life where we fully understand that our relationships mean so much more to us than our material possessions, many begin to give away some of those favorite possessions that are also loved by dear friends and family.

My sister did this when she was first diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer. She fought it, and went through all the treatments, and we were lucky to have her with us for another four years.

She was blessed with so many friends, and began to give some of her most loved possessions to many of them, while she was still living, and could see the joy they got from the gift. That process reflected love and joy back to her, knowing they would remember her each time they saw or used or wore their gift from her.