Long before any last words are necessary, here’s a great way to make sure you have no regrets.
No one likes to think about death, whether it’s our own or that of a loved one. But one unexpected part of the grieving process can be joy and appreciation for having known a beautiful person or having lived a beautiful life. That’s why Stanford doctor VJ Periyakoil, who specializes in multicultural aging studies and geriatrics, founded the Stanford Friends and Family Letter Project — to help us all banish any potential regrets and instead encourage gratitude and love.
Last year, Periyakoil and her team created a free “last letter” template in eight languages that anyone may use to recognize, forgive, and appreciate family and friends before they die.
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The template addresses seven of what Periyakoil calls “life review tasks”:
Task 1: Acknowledge the important people in your life.
Task 2: Remember treasured moments from your life.
Task 3: Apologize to those you love if you hurt them.
Task 4: Forgive those who love you if they have hurt you.
Task 5: Express your gratitude for all the love and care you have received.
Task 6: Tell your friends and family how much you love them.
Task 7: Take a moment to say “goodbye.”
Though everyone’s last letter is different, especially when you account for racial, ethnic, class, and other cultural factors, Periyakoil has noticed certain connective themes between letters.
Watch patients read excerpts of their last letters in this official Stanford Friends and Family Letter Project video:
In a recent piece for the New York Times, Periyakoil writes, “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.”
Other common sentiments included pride in one’s children, long-overdue apologies, and forgiveness for grudges.
Periyakoil assures readers that the best time to write your last letter is while you are still healthy. This is your opportunity to say what you might never have uttered aloud to the people you cherish most in life. The letter may be especially valuable to a more reticent person, but the truth is that all of us could afford to express more love and gratitude, not only before we pass, but also in our daily lives.
What you do with the letter once you complete it — which Periyakoil acknowledges requires a lot of courage — is up to you.
“Once the letter is written, you can choose to share it with your loved ones right away,” writes Periyakoil. “You can also store it in a safe place or with a trusted person to be given to your family in the future. Some people prefer to use the letter as a living legacy document and update it over time.”
You may get inspiration from some of the examples posted in videos online. Whether you decide to actually write down your thoughts or not, we admire Periyakoil and her team for encouraging this kind of positive reflection and appreciation — which will only bring more love to anyone’s life.