Ellen and Tish tackle the joy of writing midlife legacy letters to loved ones! A legacy letter is a personal statement that you write and share with people you choose, either before or after the end of your life. It's an opportunity to reflect on your important life experiences, share your values to your children, grandchildren or other loved ones.
Tish shares her joyful experience on getting a letter from her dad after he died and Ellen shares the longing left after not getting a legacy letter. The episode has the how to's on creating legacy letters and encouragement to get started writing them now.
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Obsessions - please use these links to support the show!
Tish: Legacy journal and safe box- Tish keeps everything in this safe box.
Ellen: Letters to my Son - Ellen uses this book to kick start her legacy letters to her three boys.
What we talk about in this episode: legacy letters, storytelling, children, grandchildren, Letters to My Son prompts, Oakland, CA author Leah Redmond, christmas ornaments with quotes, journaling, Mother's Day, end of life planning.
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Hey, Ellen, today, I want us to cover kind of a serious subject here. But it's one that I personally know can bring so much joy to our families. You know, we're getting older, and our own mortality really starts to come into focus, right? Definitely Tish, and by mid life, we've seen the loss of so many loved ones, family and friends, and how families struggle in the aftermath. So it got me really thinking that maybe we could talk about, you know, an end of life plan, or legacy letters. Now, Legacy letters are letters that we would write to specific individuals that are to be left to be read after our passing.Ellen Gustafson:
You know, I just got some goosies here talking about this Tish, because I too believe this is so important. And one of the things I always hear after someone passes, really is this desire to have one more conversation with that loved one. And a legacy letter can be some final thoughts and some real comfort to the people we leave behind, you know, as our legacy, it reveals stories and different things for future generations. These are critically important to me.Tish Woods:
You know, Alan, I think I've shared with you before that my own father had written a legacy letter to the family well before his death. And we're going to talk a little bit more about that later in the episode. But I can't, I can't begin to tell you how much that has meant to me and my children over these years.Ellen Gustafson:
I know it's such a great story. And I'm really excited for you to share that with our listeners. And I have some experience with this too, with not getting legacy lenders for myself and for one of my children. And I'll talk about that, too. But before we move on to this really important and moving topic, let's talk about our weekly obsessions. Tish, what do you have for me this week?Tish Woods:
You know, as we're researching this subject, it really got me thinking, you know, I don't really have an organized plan. And as a single person, there's no spouse like, well, if something happens to me, my spouse can take care of it, really to have that. And it really started to make me think that you know what, this is the year that I need to start putting a planner together. And you know, me, I need some help with this stuff. So I started researching. And there are some really great planners out there that can help you get organized, put all the information that your family is going to need, all into one place. And then on top of that, I think it's important to keep it safe. So if you're not one that has a safety deposit box, I'm going to say when I get all my book and stuff, all this together all these important papers, I'm going to get a fireproof waterproof, small, safe box. And I think this is really important, your family's going to know where to go to get the important papers, everything's in one spot. And even if there's a flood, if there's a fire, all that stuff is still safe. So those are going to be my obsessions for the week, you know, these things that can help us plan to make sure everything's together, and it makes it a little easier on our families.Ellen Gustafson:
I really like that because it's true, making it easier for the ones we've left behind and having everything in one spot. And having someone know where that spot is for you to, I think is really important. And consider it.Tish Woods:
Yeah, yeah, you know, it's, it's always a hard time as it is. And then if you're trying to rifle through papers, and trying to piece this all together, you know, that's a lot. That's one burden that you don't have to worry that your kids are going to have to deal with. Barbie. What about you, Alan, what is your obsession for this week?Ellen Gustafson:
Well, my obsession also has something to do with creating legacy letters. And it's this little book I know I showed you when you were visiting Tish called Letters to My Son, and it's by a local Bay Area artist, her name is Lea Redmond. We'll put a link to her website, but also these are available, you know, on Amazon, and it's a small booklet that looks like a letter kind of like the old airmail letters and inside there 10 prompts of different things, different letters you can write to your son, everyone our listeners, I think knows I have three boys. And this is what the book that prompted me To write legacy letters for my children, one of the things so we'll talk about it a little bit more in the episode.Tish Woods:
I like that because I think, you know, some people just like everything. Where do I get started? Yeah. And it's something like that is a great tool to prompt us to move forward. But yeah, I want to know a little bit more about those. Because I think that's such a great idea. But Ellen, okay, you know, we are into the stats.Ellen Gustafson:
I know it.Tish Woods:
Did you did you know that a recent survey revealed 52% of adults over the age of 45 years old, have no end of life plan?Ellen Gustafson:
Shocking, but actually, I think that that's higher than I thought. I thought it would be like 75%. But you know, it really, again, is something that then the responsibility falls to our family to take care of. And I don't think any of us want that.Tish Woods:
You know, I think it's always this idea, we have more time. I'll get to that we have plenty of time. Yep. But yeah, so I'm one I'm in, I'm in that bad part, because I don't have one. So, so I can relate to this. But I'm going to make a change on that this year. So it's going to be important. So I think, I think the first step in the process would be to start putting your final arrangements together to start putting, you know, letting your family know, in a written format, or even pre paying for stuff, what you want, as your you know, end of life journal, or whatever you want to call it. But I think it's a great way to get started to kind of think about all these things is, you know, start putting down your intentions of how you want to see these final plans go.Ellen Gustafson:
I like that, you know, in the idea of having a journal to do it, we were always talking about journaling. This is just one more step in that big journaling process. But, you know, I also think it's good that it allows you to capture financial information, like your account numbers, and passwords, and really, all those practical things. And once those things are taken care of, we can move into the more sentimental side of things, if I could call the legacy letter a little bit more sentimental. And, you know, I do have this done. Tish, I know, you and I are very different people. I think that folks out there probably our listeners, you know, I'm organized in some ways and not in others. But this is one way I have been organized. So I love this idea of a binder or a journal to have this all in one place. And to let people know where it is.Tish Woods:
You know, I think I think the difficulty comes, I think facing our own death is just never an easy subject. Right? So it's something we always push off. But not only organizing our affairs, but I just love this idea of leaving some final words of inspiration or encouragement. Or maybe it's final words of, you know, apology, it doesn't matter what it is kind of leaving those for the people that we love. And I really want our listeners to consider doing these letters. Okay, so leaving this legacy letter could really act as some amazing, wonderful, final goodbye from you. So,Ellen Gustafson:
yeah, I love to say, you know,Tish Woods:
you had mentioned earlier, you kind of had a very painful cautionary tale, okay, about this whole idea of not getting a legacy letter. And while I know this is not an easy subject for you, I wanted to ask you if you would share kind of what that story is and how it impacted. You know, how you changed what you did about these legacy letters.Ellen Gustafson:
Yes. And thanks, Tish. This is a very personal story for me. And I'm happy to share it with our listeners. As everyone knows, I have three boys and my oldest son Jack. He lost his father when he was 18. And his father had a terminal illness. And he he actually went much sooner than people thought then then even he thought, but it kind of was at the same time. My son Jack was a senior in high school and he had a Kairos retreat. We're all the people in your life right you'd ladders and although his dad passed a week, I think about a week or two before the Kairos retreat. He was so hoping For that his dad had written him a letter for this retreats. Unfortunately, his father did not write him a letter for the retreat. And there was never any letter found for him from his dad. And that was, I think, a big, big wake up call for me.Tish Woods:
Yeah, you know, when I think about, like, when somebody should write these letters, I think when somebody is so sick, like, like Randy was it's hard time to bring this idea up. It's almost like you're asking them to give up. And, you know, just write this letter. And I think that's why it's so important to me, that we do this when we don't need to do it yet.Ellen Gustafson:
Exactly. Tish, exactly. You know, I had the same situation with my mom who died of cancer. And during her short illness, it was not long, she was not really even healthy enough to do this, during that time. So you are so right, we need to write these long before we think we ever need them. Waiting until after we're sick, or you know, something happens is not the best time, I'm just going to say the time is now. And both of those experiences really catapulted me, I'm going to use that word, because it was a very active conscious choice to write these letters to my children, and also when for my brother,Tish Woods:
I love that. You know, I agree, these letters are best written when we're not under duress. And I think, I think what I'm going to do is take the time around Mother's Day, to really reflect what it has meant to me to be a mom, my relationship that I have, which is different with each of my kids. And I'm gonna start writing my legacy letters to my children around the mother's day timeline. And then every year, I'm going to commit to myself to update my letters, you know, because things change, events change. And I think that's the time I'm going to take, you know, for me, I need deadlines. Yes, yes. So, so the letters that I really want to leave are going to be for the children. So what better time than around Mother's Day to start leaving that legacy gift for them when I'm gone?Ellen Gustafson:
I love that. And I know it's a heavy lift for you as a mom of four. So you really will have to take some significant time Tish to do that.Tish Woods:
Yeah. And the idea is to like, building on it over time, you know, I like that, you know, this idea that, well, none of my kids is married right now. Right? So if something were to happen, I would want there to be a letter that shares my joy for them and that day, and let them know, it's okay, then I'm not there. But I am there in spirit and, and you know, how proud I am of them. So, you know, it's those types of things. So I think that's what's going to be my, my timeline is going to be around Mother's Day.Ellen Gustafson:
I love that. And I do think it's a great time, if you have children, you know, it, it's a reflective time to, you know, you really get to reflect, and we live so many memories about your kids when you're doing this. But even if you don't have kids, you know, future generations would like to understand your life and what it's been like for us living in this time period, too. So the question becomes, you know, you can do it if you're an auntie or an uncle, or if you're not, you know, you just may want to record history of yourself. But what do you think we would include? I know you touched on it a little bit, but what do you think Tish is the best thing to include in these letters?Tish Woods:
Well, you know, I know with my father's letter, okay. His was about encouraging. He left a small piece of advice for each of his grandchildren at the time he wrote it when he had nine grandchildren never got the chance to update it for the 10th which is Liam my youngest. And, you know, I always felt bad about that. But Liam was, you know, just one years old when when he had passed and he had lost my mom that year. So it was a tough year for him. But, you know, for him, what he had done was to put a piece of advice based on each of the kids personalities, you know, like, you know, he would say to this one, don't be so tough on yourself, and you're a perfectionist. And, and it was just, he's, it's not long, but just so profound. And I think for me, I think mine would be similar as well, it would be that little piece of advice. You know, nobody, nobody knows you, like your mother knows you, you know, true. And it was very funny, because I just had this conversation with one of my kids the other day, I said, you know, when, when children are really little, their parents know, everything. And then they become teenagers, and we know nothing. And then about mid 20s, you know, they might have something going on there. Maybe they're not so stupid after all. And then before, you know, our parents know everything again. So, so it's it's kind of funny how that evolves over time. But I think, you know, a piece of advice that can follow up, can follow them, I think is really heartfelt. You know,Ellen Gustafson:
I love that. And, you know, just because I knew your dad, I don't want to say that it feels unexpected that he did this, but in a way, it's so it was so charming. He was so charming. And when I think about him giving advice to everyone, I mean, it's just such a part of his personality. Right? And I guess I'm not sure you you hit on this, did he leave a advice to you and your brothers as well? Or was it just to the grandchildren,Tish Woods:
there was some general advice, but it was really focused at the grandchildren where he used, he said them by name, and had very specific, you know, points for each of them. You know, maybe he figured, you know, he had done not he had said All he had to say to us, you know, for over the years, I don't know, but there was just some general stuff, but the specific things were to the kids, and I thought how amazing it would have been, had it been more than just, you know, a couple sentences, a piece, but a full letter to each of the children. I mean, that's a grand undertaking, but you know, I think that would have been, you know, kind of neat as well. But his doing this, I can't tell you the number of times that I have shared with friends, when their parents have been really ill. But when it gets to that point, it's, it's, it's too late for them, it's too hard. They're typically too sick to medicated to really kind of go through that process. And I think that's why this episode is so important to me, that, you know, that letter from my dad has meant so much to me. And I want other people to have that experience too. And I want all of us to give that experiences to our families,Ellen Gustafson:
really paying it forward paying it forward with that. And, you know, this is such a powerful story Tish, I have to say, and that it touched so many grandchildren, and I know, you've talked to me about how your kids asked to see that letter. I mean, it's a family heirloom at this point, right?Tish Woods:
And yeah, and I've in the past, I've created Christmas ornaments, where for each of the children, and I wrote out my dad's words, onto a Christmas ornament that kind of spins around, you have to keep turning the ornament to read the whole message. Because, you know, there are a couple sentences long. And, you know, hopefully they all you know, still have them and cherish them. But every once in a while, I like to remind them about these words from my dad, because he would want them to remember, and it wasn't just, I want to just say it was just a couple of weeks ago, that my son Sean, you know, he's in this time of his life. He's trying to figure out what his next steps are. And he said, Can I see the letter again? And I did I actually, because I have the original copy and I, you know, sent the other kids copies and stuff, but I I sent it to him, you know, over the cellphone. So I took, you know, picture shots of it. Yeah, but he I love the fact that he wanted to hear his grandfather's words again. And I loved that the words were there for him to hear.Ellen Gustafson:
It so true. And I'm going to say that you are so lucky to have this memory and advice from your father. You know, sometimes people I think can write these legacy letters to, in a way to ask for forgiveness or to kind of resolve a situation that hasn't been resolved in, in their lifetime. And I think that's a great thing to do as well.Tish Woods:
Yeah, you know, it does it, it can just take a short time for us to do this. Right. But again, it always goes back to where do I even get started? So you have a couple of resources that you use, can you can you like, tell us a little bit more about those two resources?Ellen Gustafson:
Yeah, sure. Tish, you know, one resource I used is a website with a blog, and it's called 60. And me, and the blogger, she has a video on YouTube, where she goes through a five, a really great five step process to writing legacy letters. And before I did it, I looked at that YouTube. And you know, I know we're talking about maybe having a whole episode about what we've learned on YouTube, because I've learned so much on YouTube. But she also has a website. And I really like when people take you through an entire process of how to do it. But the other thing I used was, what was my obsession This week, the letters to my son. And I have to say, I bought this at a carwash, you know, when you go to a carwash, and there's like gifts and candy and drinks and stuff. So I just had to grab it. But this letters to my son, they of course have letters to my daughter letters to my grandchildren, letters to my baby, even she's really done a great job. But there's 10 prompts, and one is I love being your parent, because the best adventure we had together, I'm proud of you. Because when you were younger, I love that our family did acts when I was younger, I wish I had known I think for all us moms, there's a lot of things we would want to impart to our kids that we wish we knew, kind of a favorite story and some hopes for their future. And I really love it has a little place for you in this book to put the date that you sealed it and the date that you'd like them to open it on. So you can kind of even give this one perhaps in advance, right if people can not open the letter. But I, I really liked these prompts because, and I haven't done all of them. But I've done a few of them for each of my children. And I really also like to do this thing, which is kind of their origin story, their birth story to, you know, when for your first child. It's like, oh my gosh, you made me a mom and everything was so you know, special. And I read that What to Expect When You're Expecting every day. Now on the third kid and the fourth kid, you're kind of like, oh, yeah, I threw you in the back of the minivan when everyone else had soccer practice, right? But it gives you their origin story gives you a really great place to start with them. And so I found both of those resources really helpful to me for starting to write the legacy letters to my children.Tish Woods:
You know, I like those topics to you know, recognizing a loved one's qualities such as kindness, or loyalty or humor, you know, writing about a specific time or an incident that comes to mind. I love that, you know, was it a special trip was it you know, something you learned together, it could be anything, you know, quite simple. But, you know, the encouragement to be grateful for every day that we have left, you know, I think writing these letters, you learn to savor moments a little bit more, because, you know, we are in some of the last chapters, you know, we don't know how much longer we have, of course, but you know, it's about listing your hopes and dreams for your loved ones. But not, not in the vein of sadness of you won't be there, but just kind of leaving that little piece of you there. You know, I like that idea.Ellen Gustafson:
I really liked it too. And, you know, some people don't feel like writing. They're not great writers or you know, they don't want to type a letter to and I guess when I say write a letter, it doesn't necessarily mean by hand but another option could be making a voice recording or a video and there are you know, a few things that you should know when you're making a video like choosing a good setting with light and low noise and, you know, be light hearted or somber or creative, whatever you want in the video and have some notes to follow. But I think a video can be great too, because just hearing my mom's voice, you know, would be such a great thing. After all these years, she's been gone 22 over 20 years, and that's so special to be able to hear someone's voice. I know now, there's many more things with people's voices than back when you know, our with our moms, you would have to get out the super eights, or hopefully somebody put some video on an on to a CD and now digitized it. But I think a video could also be a good way of doing this for folks that really don't want to spend the, you know, energy with the writing part of it.Tish Woods:
I remember after my dad passed, for the longest time, I left his voice message on the voicemail when you call the house, you know, when there's still house phones who has those anymore, but when there was still house phones, for the longest time I left it because I would call just to hear him. And yeah, I did have some family members finally asked me please, please remove it. It's it became painful to for them to listen to. For me it was wasn't painful. It was it was you know, I don't know, it just made me feel closer to him because I could hear his voice. But I understand like, people aren't expecting that. And it catches them by surprise. When I would call I know what I was expecting to hear. You know, I knew that I was calling for that reason. And I don't even know what what's, you know, I wish I wish I had access to that today. But I don't. So yeah, I liked the idea of a video. Or have you know, video of them reading the letter? I don't know why. Or something like that. You know, I think that's I think that's important. Yeah.Ellen Gustafson:
And I know, Tisch, we talked about this, that this is kind of important. And it could be you could think of it with sadness, right. But this is a joyful experience and a cathartic experience. And just a great reliving of your life experience for most of us who take the time to do this.Tish Woods:
Yes, and I do want everyone to kind of embrace that idea of, you know, it is a celebration of our life. And it is a celebration of I want to leave that tiny little piece of myself, to my loved ones, just just before they can pick up that letter whenever they want. Just like when Sean reached out and said, Hey, can I see that again? When they need to hear those words of encouragement. So as much as I value my dad's letter, I want to give that same experience and pay it forward and have it there for my children. And as grandchildren hopefully come for them as well. I know. They don't seem to be coming my way anytime soon. But who knows? Yeah, can alwaysEllen Gustafson:
meet you either. But hopefully they will. I have a few more years here because of the age of my children for those grandchildren. But I do think that, you know that, that if and when that happens for us, it'll be great for us to share those memories with grandchildren as well. And I just want us to circle back and say again, why now? Why now because I think this is one of the most important things we talked about. Tish while while putting this episode together. Now, while you're clear headed while you have clarity, or when you have a little energy, when you are not under duress, you can put together and take the time right to do these in the way that youTish Woods:
would want to. Yeah, I love that idea. You know, make it funny, make it make it you however you are if you're a silly, funny person, make it silly and funny. If you're a more serious person make it that way. But I just encourage you to start, you know, as like I said, I think you know, our podcast has made me very retrospective on life in general, right? And here's just another link in that chain of things that we want to make sure that we appreciate and pass forward.Ellen Gustafson:
That's right. And those letters could include a recipe right? Some funny things, your favorite film, your favorite color, things like where you grew up, that they may not know you know, sometimes we think our kids know everything about us right and they down on some of those things, so part of it can be about you too. So I think we've talked about why now and what to include, but I'm gonna say that we'll check back in with you in June Tisch to see how you're doing I think we'd all love an update, not to put the pressure on you.Tish Woods:
No, no, I love I love to be held accountable for what you know what I say I want to be doing. But yes, this Mother's Day, I'm going to start my letters, my legacy letters, and I encourage each one of you, your listeners here to start there. So we're gonna have some great links, you know, definitely, you know, look into those are going to be listed on our website. Remember, we have a website now. Yes, so check us out, use our links. That's a great way to help support us in our podcast and going forward. So until next week, mid lifers until nextEllen Gustafson:
week, have a great week.