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Barry Schrader
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I have been writing a column for the Chronicle most of the time since December 2007, with two breaks, one in 2016 and the other in 2017 when my wife Kay suffered a stroke. They are all archived here.

 

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Have you written your goodbye letter yet?

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist.............................May 11, 2018

In an age where computers enable instant communication, you seldom if ever get a handwritten letter. I was approached earlier this year by an acquaintance who wanted to compose a letter to his family, but didn’t know quite how to start and how long to make it.

Having done about 100 oral histories, a number of them serving as the oral historian for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for two years, then doing them gratis for historical societies in Livermore, California, and back here, I do have some ideas to share with those contemplating a final message, generally to be opened upon a person’s passing.

Sometime ago, I clipped out an article about “final letters to loved ones,” and tucked it away in a file box. Usually my old clippings never see the light of day again, and eventually the boxes get tossed. But I am glad I retrieved that article.

First, one may ask, why bother to write something when you can tell your family or close friend(s) in person what you are feeling? Two possible reasons I can offer:

1. You are in the final stages of life and need help composing it, but don’t want family to see it at this point.

If a person is not inclined to pen a personal letter, there are other methods—a computer, video recording, stored on a flash drive or CD among them. But put it in a safe deposit box or wherever you keep your valuable documents (even with your attorney).(Schrader graphic)

2. Your family is scattered in several states and it is not always convenient to assemble them in one place to talk about what they have meant to you or what legacy (advice) you want to leave them.

I am not talking about legal documents listing your possessions or how your estate is to be divided – just a very personal message to loved ones or extended family who have meant a lot to you over the years. I know that some people have recorded a message, either on tape (now it would be a CD or flash drive) or video. I have done that myself, but more as an oral history than a message to the loved ones I may leave behind.

So, accumulating what I have read and done myself, here are some thoughts:
• Tell your family how much they have meant to you and how they played a valuable role in your life (if true).
• Confess any wrongdoing or slights you may have committed so your conscience is clear as you depart this tired old globe.
• Forgive anyone who might have been estranged from you for any reason, although it might not have been you who caused the separation (this might not include former spouses).
• Tell your children and grandchildren how they have made your life fulfilling (if true) and give them any advice that might help them as they age.
• Reminisce about some special occasions or moments in your life that meant a lot and thank those who made this possible.
• Finally, in your letter or recording, tell them how much you loved them and encourage them to have a good life, not dwell on losing you, but remember the great times you had together. However, it is not a good idea to express regret over lost opportunities or the fact you spent too little time with loved ones.

So what about the gentleman I helped compose his final thoughts? We ended up doing it as sort of an interview, then composed it on a computer (with his real signature). It now resides in his safe deposit box to be opened upon his death.

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The columnist can be reached via email at :

barry815sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115