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.