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Why a goodbye letter is the most important letter you will write

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We often hear from our community:

“I wish my mom wrote a letter to me before she died.” 

“I keep the letter my father wrote with me wherever I go.” 

No one wants to think about having to say goodbye to a loved one, but writing can help us come to terms and find peace with end-of-life. A letter is a beautiful way to say goodbye — and after you’re gone, a keepsake that your loved ones can find solace in. Think of the people you’ve lost and the comfort it would bring to hear from them one last time. A goodbye letter can provide this.   

Leaving a lasting message only takes a few minutes, but the impact is everlasting. Your end-of-life letter can be long, or short — all that matters is that you write it. 

How to write a goodbye letter to your family and loved ones 

Most of us think of our last words as conversations that happen while we’re closest to death. It may be our final opportunity to express our love, share memories, or even address regret. Meaningful end-of-life letters can be written at any time, but writing them earlier — while you may have more time to do so — means you can think through what’s most important for you to share with your family. 

The act of letter writing can be a beautiful experience. It encourages you to revisit cherished memories, come to terms with your mortality, and acknowledge how much the people in your life meant to you. Writing a goodbye letter can be difficult — but it may be the most important letter you ever write. 

Below we’ve included some tips to begin writing your goodbye letter. 

Consider the recipient’s personality and needs

When you’re sitting down to write a goodbye letter, think about who you’re writing to. Not all friends and family will appreciate the same message. Does the recipient gain comfort from humor, or will they appreciate a more somber and thoughtful farewell? Personalizing your letters based on loved ones’ needs will allow your unique bond to shine through. Remember, this is a letter to someone you love. 

Use specifics in your goodbye message

When you write letters to your loved ones before dying, it’s your opportunity to make sure that nothing is left unsaid. This provides a sense of closure, and peace, to both you and your family. 

It’s meaningful to use specific memories to craft your message. Consider the first time you met a loved one or a funny inside joke you want them to always remember. Are you writing a letter to a younger person? Include any advice you want them to keep in mind throughout their life. Details make the letter special. 

Express gratitude for your relationship

Writing a goodbye letter allows you to validate your relationship one last time. When you’re gone, your family and friends can find solace knowing that you loved and appreciated them. 

This is an opportunity to put your gratitude into words. Maybe your sister was there for you during a hard time or your best friend was your sounding board when you had parenting questions. Tell your loved ones exactly what they meant to you so they can rest easy knowing you love them as much as they love you. 

How to write a goodbye letter to someone dying

You may also find yourself writing a farewell letter to someone with a terminal condition. Just as writing your own end-of-life letter is a time for reflection, writing a letter to a dying loved one is about reinforcing your love and taking the time to express thanks for their impact on your life. 

When you’re writing a letter to someone in end-of-life care, consider the following. 

Share your memories and gratitude 

Let your loved one know that you will always cherish your memories of them. Stories and reflections can provide immense comfort in their final days. Tell them you will continue to share their favorite recipes, or that you’ll always think of them when you’re in their neighborhood. Bringing up specific stories and memories will allow them to reminisce on their life and your friendship. 

Let them know you’ll be okay 

Hospice workers recommend telling your loved one that their family and friends will be alright. Take this time to tell your loved one “You have taught us well, and we will carry on your legacy.” This will give them comfort as they transition into their final stage of life. 

Avoid messages of non-acceptance

You might mean well, but don’t say “Keep fighting,” or “I know you’ll beat this” to a person who has accepted that they are in end-of-life care. It’s more important to offer the dying person peace. Instead of saying you’re hoping for a miracle, reassure them about how loved they are and how you will honor them in the future. 

Pre-plan your legacy for your loved ones

Many of us assume end-of-life planning is something we can deal with at a later date; that there’s no urgency in settling affairs now. If you feel this way, you aren’t alone. In a recent survey that we conducted, 52% of Americans 45 or older have done no end-of-life planning. 

Going through the process of pre-planning can reveal our deepest values — including how we want our friends and family to remember us. This is why writing letters to loved ones before dying can be such a meaningful gift and way to cope with end-of-life. 

There’s no perfect end-of-life letter. It simply holds meaning because it comes from you. Your letter can be a space to express gratitude, or simply say ‘I love you’ or ‘Thank you.’ It can be an opportunity to apologize or forgive. You can leave words of wisdom for children, tender words for a partner, or inspiration for a dear friend. Long or short, it’s special because it comes from you. 

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