Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

Why you should write your goodbye letters to your loved ones now, before it’s too late

final letter.jpg

Elton John famously claimed that “sorry seems to be the hardest word”, but, as it turns out, he was incorrect.

Saying goodbye is far harder.

Which is why Dr VJ Periyakoil, who has spent over a decade working as a geriatrics and palliative care doctor, has come up with a project that encourages us to write a final letter to our loved ones – before it’s too late.

Explaining her reasoning in a piece for the New York Times, she revealed that the most common emotion expressed by patients reaching the end of their lives is one of regret.

“Regret that they never took the time to mend broken friendships and relationships,” she said. “Regret that they never told their friends and family how much they care.”

“[And] regret that they are going to be remembered by their children as hypercritical mothers or exacting, authoritarian fathers.”

However, when it comes to saying a truly meaningful goodbye, it can often be difficult for us to find the words.


Read more: deathbed reflections of the rich and famous


Which is why Periyakoil, with guidance from seriously ill patients and their families, has developed a free template for a final goodbye letter

"Take the opportunity to express the deep love, gratitude, and commitment you feel towards your friends and family.”

"Take the opportunity to express the deep love, gratitude, and commitment you feel towards your friends and family.”

The Stanford Letter Project encourages people to, while they are still healthy, reflect on the “important relationships they have cultivated” over the years.

“Sadly, almost everyone forgets to do this or postpones it until it is too late,” it reads on the Stanford Letter Project’s site. “Thus, they never have an opportunity to express the deep love, gratitude, and commitment they feel towards their friends and family.”

The template advises people to complete seven vital life review tasks within their letter: acknowledge the important people in your life, remember treasured moments, apologise to those you may have hurt, and forgive those who have hurt you.

Most importantly, it reminds us to say “thank you,” “I love you” and “goodbye.”

The following videos show two graduates participating in the Stanford Letter Project:

Writing a final goodbye letter when you are happy and healthy may seem strange, morbid, even.

However, if you put it off until it’s too late, you risk leaving your loved ones with a plethora of unanswered questions.

It is for this reason that Periyakoil has created two letter templates; one for people who are battling an ongoing illness, and one for people who are in good health

“I recommend that people write only the parts that they feel comfortable with,” she advises, adding that it takes “tremendous courage” to write a life review letter.

Once your letter is complete, she adds, you can store it in a safe place to be given to your family and friends in the future. Or, if you prefer, you can use it as a living legacy document and update it over time.


Read more: poignant goodbye letters and moving messages of farewell


While many have responded positively to the Stanford Letter Project, others have claimed that it promotes an attitude of “too little, too late”.

Instead, they advise that you speak up about your feelings with those you care for - and feel free to express your emotions on a regular basis.

Or as one reader commented on the project: “Why write a letter when you're still here and can SAY all these things to those you love?”

"It takes tremendous courage to write a life review letter"

"It takes tremendous courage to write a life review letter"

However, while some people find it easy to open up, it is worth remembering that many others – particularly those from older generations – find it difficult to say what they really feel.

So much so that, in Bonnie Ware’s The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, the palliative nurse revealed that one of the biggest regrets experienced by her patients was that they hadn’t found the courage to express their feelings.

She explained: "Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming.”

Others, she said, regretted that they had failed to “realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks… [and] there were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort they deserved.”

Perhaps, for people who find it hard to express themselves on a daily basis, the letter project is perfect.

And, for others, it is worth remembering that the letter is not for you - not really.

It is, rather, a way to comfort those people who loved you best - and whose lives were rocked by your passing.

Images: iStock

Related

children's book anne green gables netflix.jpg

Mother's dying letter to her daughter has been returned 15 years on

postbox.jpg

First look at love letters between WW2 bride and her soldier husband

woman.jpg

The heartwarming foreign words that have no direct English translation

Comments

More

“A teenage girl's first concert should be a rite of passage”

“And, last night it was snatched from their innocent hands”

by Lucy Foster
23 May 2017

Manchester attack: how you can help

The ways you can support the victims, survivors and investigation

by Amy Swales
23 May 2017

The entertainment world reacts to the Manchester terror attack

Tributes have poured in from stars across the globe following the tragedy

by Joe Ellison
23 May 2017

Manchester attack: the woman who heroically protected over 50 children

Paula Robinson has been praised for her heroism on social media

by Kayleigh Dray
23 May 2017

Manchester Arena blast: at least 22 dead and more than 50 injured

Home Secretary Amber Rudd has called it a “barbaric attack, deliberately targeting some of the most vulnerable in our society”

by Kayleigh Dray
23 May 2017

Everything you need to know about alkaline hydrolysis

It's an eco-friendly alternative to burials

by Sarah Biddlecombe
22 May 2017

How to chill a bottle of white wine in less than 3 minutes

Because who has time to wait for wine?

by Kayleigh Dray
22 May 2017

Bride’s wedding shoot with male bridesmaids goes viral

This computer engineer's bro-maids are basically awesome

by Amy Swales
22 May 2017

This is how you decide what to eat for lunch

Salad or sandwich?

by Sarah Biddlecombe
22 May 2017

How to tell if your friendship is failing - and how to fix it

These are the warning signs to look out for

by Sarah Biddlecombe
22 May 2017