Want to be sure they know what you think?
Write a letter they’ll read after you’re gone.
In these days of electronic communication, fewer people put pen to paper. Gone are the days when everything from the mundane to the momentous made its way on to paper and into the mail. As a writer who’s mined hundred-year-old letters for insights into everyday life in the early 1900s, I lament the loss.
But letters are not completely gone, and some people are finding that letters can serve a deeper purpose.
A new Twitter friend, Debbie Gruber, brought my attention to the intriguing genre of posthumous letters — letters that carry very special messages intended to be read after the writer has passed away. I’ve invited her to tell us more.
Everything you always wanted to know about posthumous letters (but were afraid to ask) – by Debbie Gruber
It’s not creepy . . . really.
Just to give you some perspective, posthumous letters, also known as legacy letters or ethical wills, date back to biblical times. The Old Testament described them over 3000 years ago (Genesis Ch. 49) and references to this tradition are also found in the New Testament (John Ch. 15 – 19). In the Medieval 18th century, fathers wrote legacy letters to their sons, as did leaders to their followers. A critic at the time said these types of letters were often “intellectually poor, but of a high moral level.”
Today, examples of posthumous communications abound. One of my favorites is from Sherwood Schwartz, creator of “The Brady Bunch” and “Gilligan’s Island”, who wrote a farewell letter to his family and fans.
Even politicians have written posthumous letters. In 2009, Senator Ted Kennedy composed a letter to President Barack Obama with orders that it be delivered to the President on the occasion of the Senator’s death.
Because of technology, the possibilities for posthumous communication extend beyond pen and paper. We can leave behind an audio or video recording. This brings to mind Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture.” Randy Pausch was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University who was diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer. In 2007, he delivered literally his last lecture, entitled “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” The lecture, which he meant as a legacy for his kids, was devoured by the public, receiving over 16 million online views and spawning a New York Times best-seller.
For some of us, the word “posthumous” carries connotations that may make us uncomfortable. We envision morbid images – ghosts, graves, headstones, and the like. That’s how I used to feel. But one day, while contemplating a trip to Spain, that all changed.
As late-in-life parents of two teenaged boys, my husband and I were chomping at the bit to have a “parents only” vacation. I had always wanted to visit Spain. Traveling while our sons were at sleep-away camp seemed like the perfect opportunity for our getaway. We had left our kids before, but never for more than a few days, and never to travel overseas. As the trip approached, my anxiety grew.
Although excited about the prospect of a wonderful vacation, I felt increasingly uncomfortable about flying without my kids. I kept thinking . . . what if the plane crashes and I never see my children again? I realized my emotions were getting the best of me, but I couldn’t alleviate the anxiety that was gnawing at me.
That’s when it hit me . . . why not write them notes? This way, they’d have permanent keepsakes of my heart speaking to theirs. I found comfort in realizing that I could write notes. The process of writing the notes “sealed the deal.” If the unimaginable happened, my boys would have a permanent reminder of how much I love them and how they make my heart sing.
About a year later, I formed Heart Writing. My intent was to build a website where folks could create keepsake notes for their loved ones. As the business continues to take shape, I see that by writing notes, folks receive several benefits: peace of mind, a way to be remembered, and the assurance that loved ones always know how they feel. And, I hope that many years down the road, the “receivers” of these notes, the loved ones, will experience comfort and joy each and every time they read their notes.
A late-in-life, baby boomer mom. Debbie lives on the north shore of Long Island (no, unfortunately not the Hamptons) with her husband, two teenage boys, and her “furry child” Lucky (a good natured Havanese). Lucky is the only one of her children who doesn’t talk back and complain about stuff.