How do you heal after the death of a child?
Whether your child was six, sixteen or sixty when he or she died, he or she is still your baby. I know. on March 6, 2012, a few hours after my 54th birthday, my smart and beautiful daughter, Hannah Rose, died at nineteen. I struggle every day to wrap my brain around this tragedy — to make sense of her death. Most importantly, I am trying to figure out meaningful ways to honor her life, and to make sure her death was not in vain. I want to keep her memory alive. I want to make sure the abbreviated story of her life, and why she was so special are not lost, but told and retold. I want to make her smile and laugh, wherever she is right now. I found a simple, but meaningful way to accomplish this.
I am a professional writer, so it is not surprising that writing, particularly poetry, has helped me to learn how to endure my daughter’s death. I also help people write Legacy Letters and Tribute Legacy Letters. A Legacy Letter translates a person’s personal and family stories and values into wisdom that can inform and transform younger and future generations.
Whereas a Legacy Letter is written for a younger person(s), a Tribute Legacy Letter is generally written by a younger person to an elder person, perhaps a teacher, mentor, parent or grandparent about what legacy they received from that person.
I did write my daughter, Hannah Rose, a Legacy Letter before she died, but when I wrote it, I thought I would die before her. In a million years, I could never have anticipated the reverse. I urge people to write their Legacy Letter to their children and grandchildren now, rather than later. No one knows who will still be with us tomorrow. The fragility and unpredictability of life is something we know all too well.
The idea occurred to me to create a special kind of Tribute Legacy Letter for loved ones who have passed. I call it an “Honor Your Angel” Legacy Letter. This special letter or book captures the treasured stories, memories and unique qualities of a deceased loved one. The true value of a deceased loved one can be revealed through collecting, documenting and sharing his or her personal stories. It is a powerful strategy to move forward in your life, while honoring your loved one.
Sadly, the opposite is true too. Often, only a handful of people give the bereaved a chance to share stories about their deceased relative. Containing these bottled-up stories puts unnecessary salt on the wound, and prevents you from joining the land of the living. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,” said Maya Angelou.
So, if people don’t ask you to tell stories about your loved one. Then ask them for their stories and add your own. Each person can also contribute their own “Honor Your Angel” Legacy Letter and compile them into a book. The process for writing an “Honor Your Angel” Legacy Letter can be a life affirming, profoundly spiritual and satisfying experience. Here’s how to write your own healing letter about your decease child, grandchild, sibling or spouse you and your family will treasure forever:
- Jot down thought provoking and story stimulating questions, like these.
- How did he/she make a difference in your life, your family’s life and the community? Recall specific incidents and elaborate.
- What did this person impart about what it takes to be successful, and have a good life?
- Does this person have any favorite sayings, songs, quotes or unique ways of expressing himself?
- What moment(s) spent with this person is (are) the most memorable?
- What life lesson(s) did this person impart to you that were most useful? In what way?
- Interview yourself and others based on the above questions. Record, then transcribe these interviews.
- Write an “Honor Your Angel” Legacy Letter based on these transcriptions.
- Collect favorite photographs, and scan or upload them into the letter or book.
- Share with family and friends, and savor the moment.
Materials needed: Digital Recorder, acid-free, archival paper, or a bound scrap or photo book. I use online photo and book publishing sites such as Shutterfly.com and blurb.com to create a variety of Legacy Letter Books.
The pain of losing a child, grandchild, sibling or spouse will be with us forever. I hope that writing a “Honoring Your Angel” Legacy Letter will help ease your pain, creating a special healing gift for you and your whole family.
Leah Dobkin is the founder of legacyletter.org