A recent article in The New York Times by a geriatric physician discussed the idea of writing a "last letter" to loved ones. It is something Dr. Periyakoil recommends to patients, not just when they might be facing their imminent demise, but also when they are still healthy, "before it's too late." The primary reason, the doctor writes, is because writing the letter might alleviate end-of-life regret: "The most common emotion [my patients] 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."
Dr. Periyakoil was so committed to the last letter concept that she spearheaded the "Stanford Letter Project." This project of the Stanford University School of Medicine offers anyone three free tools, basically letter templates, to help write a "what matters most" letter, a "friends and family" letter, and an "advance directive" document.
After reading the article, I thought I'd read some of the accompanying comments. I was surprised to see several comments that were downright derogatory about the notion of writing a last letter. A few choice excerpts:
"...these sample letters seem kinda underwhelming and shallow to me."
"If people feel a need to do this, fine, but to encourage the practice is unnecessary, and kind of morbid."
"If you have something to say, tell me to my face. Otherwise, I don't want to hear it."
"The idea of summing up one's life in a template form letter, another digital to-do in the list, strikes me as pathetic and depressing."
"I think it would be cynical to write a letter of regret to try to absolve yourself of all your life's guilts at your death."
In fairness, there were also positive comments about the idea of a "last letter," but my purpose in quoting some of the negative comments is two-fold.
First, in my opinion, the real reason for writing such a letter is to be honest about one's feelings and, perhaps, to attempt to make things right before leaving this earth forever. Some of the naysayers seem to miss the point, either because they are insensitive to that need, or they are too hung up on the use of a "template," which is nothing more than a vehicle for those who need it.
Second, and again it's only my opinion, I think some of the comments reflect the sad fact that the very act of sitting down and writing a last letter is viewed as archaic. Also, at times I get the feeling that some people are not willing, or maybe not capable, of writing anything meaningful anymore. It seems to me that we have become something of a say-it-fast-and-short verbal culture that treats the written word all too casually. As a writer, of course, I am biased toward the importance of the written word.
Anyway, these are just my opinions... I'd welcome any thoughts you might have on the pros and cons of the "last letter."
Please read the thoughtful comment posted by Cheryl. See "Comments" below.