memories, stories, seniors, grandparent

By Leah Dobkin

As our modern society places more emphasis on material things, it is easy to lose sight of what we think is important in our lives.  Wealth is more than money and possessions.  In fact, what you learn in life may be more valuable than what you earn.  Consequently, passing on your life lessons and values, not just your valuables, is important, especially in our consumption-oriented culture.

Putting pen to paper about your intangible assets is a way to preserve who you are, and what matters most to you. It is a way to be remembered, understood, and to make a real difference to the younger generation.

My family celebrated Christmas and Hanukah at our handmade log cabin, which my family built with some help from friends.  I was hoping the cabin would be a no electronic zone, but I was outnumbered.  The children were plugged into their own thing.  One child was wired into his iPod, listening to his music.  Another was absorbed in his text messaging conversation with his cell phone.  A third was watching a movie on her laptop computer.  Does this scene seem familiar to you?

A disturbing New Year’s Day newspaper headline said “The Year People Stopped Talking to One Another.” An entire generation is obsessed with technology and multitasking.  Families are scattered and busy, and don’t take the time to share family stories.  This younger generation may become the first generation not to know their family heritage.

There is something you can do to address this problem.  You can give your children and grandchildren deeper roots by crafting a Legacy Letter.

What is a Legacy Letter?

A Legacy Letter is a love letter to your family.  Sometimes referred to as an ethical will, it is a tradition dating back 3,500 years.   Legacy Letters translates your personal and family stories, and values into life lessons and wisdom that can inform and transform the younger and future generations.  It can be used as a road map to guide younger generations.

legacy lettersEach one of you has a legacy…you exist, you matter, and you made a difference in the world.  Like the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, many of us don’t realize the impact we have had on others, nor the impact others have had on us until we really sit down and quietly reflect on our life.  Writing a Legacy Letter is a great opportunity for self-examination and psychological, and spiritual growth, and healing.  Reflecting, clarifying, and documenting a legacy is an important part of a life well lived – a gift to ourselves today, and to those who come after us.  A Legacy Letter documents your connection to your roots and your life’s purpose(s) providing an important link between your ancestors, you, and your descendants. Writing a Legacy Letter is a privilege and a responsibility.

The younger generation needs intergenerational connections more than ever.  They are smart, but I believe common sense is not so common.  I believe we have a generational obligation to pass on our family stories and life lessons.  It is a unique time in history.  We are living longer than any other generation; therefore, we have more years of experience to share.  Inspired by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, author of From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older, I like to think that I am sage-ing, not just age-ing, and you are too.

 What a Legacy Letter Is Not?

It is not an oral history, memoir, autobiography, but rather a focused letter that includes elements of oral histories, memoirs, and autobiographies.  It examines not just the who and what, but the why and how you felt at the time and the impact people and events had on you.  It can also express hopes, blessings, explanations, forgiveness, and gratitude.

It is not a legal document. A legal will and financial papers, such as estate plans, address what do I want my loved ones to have.  A Legacy Letter addresses what do I want them to know. They are non-legal complementary cousins of the legal will (“last will and testament”) and the living will (your advance health care directive).

Every letter is as unique as you.  The document can be as short as a paragraph or as long as a bound volume.

  • The average length is 2-10 pages.
  • It can be a generic letter supplemented with individualized letters.
  • Or a core letter with personalized additions.
  • It can include favorite quotes, poetry, cartoons, recipes, photos, and other memorabilia.
  • It is preserved on archival acid-free paper and ink, or can be an audio, video or digital recording.

It takes courage and commitment to confront and reflect on your life and one’s mortality.  But writing a Legacy Letter will probably be one of the most deeply satisfying act you have ever done.  Creating a Legacy Letter is a profound personal exercise.  It can be equally profound and helpful to those fortunate enough to be on the receiving end.  It’s a win-win for all involved.


legacy letter leah dobkinLeah Dobkin is a versatile and creative writer, covering environmental, housing, social, consumer and business issues. She skillfully weaves compelling human-interest stories for print and online articles. She has written extensively about creative solutions and opportunities in an aging society. Prior to freelance writing, Ms. Dobkin was in the aging and nonprofit field for more than 35 years, with a strong focus on intergenerational programming.





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