We have the illusion of safety and control in our lives, but the truth is that none of us know whether this Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day) will be our last. I just read a terrific blog – Slate: Dear Kids: This Mother’s Day, Write a Letter to your Children. Leave Something for Them after You’re Gone, by John Dickinson.
The author reminds us to leave something in writing for our children after we are gone. It can be in the form of a letter which they can read now and save, or it can be in an envelope to be opened at some point in the future. The letter can contain our encouragement for different stages of life, our deepest hopes and dreams for them, our love and delight at who they are as individuals, or even our explanation of why we’ve chosen a path in our own life.
This advice reminded me of a client I represented many years ago in a wrongful death case. She had just been diagnosed with cancer, which would have been treatable if it had been correctly diagnosed years earlier, but through medical errors had been allowed to remain undiagnosed and metastasized throughout her body. At the time of diagnosis, she had an infant who was still under the age of one.
This remarkable woman, knowing that she had only months to live, set about to make a series of videos, intended to be shown to her daughter at various stages of her life: entering first grade, entering middle school, graduation from high school, wedding, having her first child.
Parents who have end-stage cancer or a terminal diagnosis have a unique opportunity to preserve their deepest feelings of love and caring, supportive advice for their children by making a video like this. I think it’s a wonderful idea, and I’ve mentioned it to many clients who know that they have only a short time to live. I have four children – two in elementary school, one in high school, and one in college. I’ve always thought it would even be a good idea to do a video myself, but I’ve never quite been able to bring myself to do it, mostly because the thought of not being around for those events is just too painful.
What I have done, though, is to write each of my children a letter every year on their birthday, and put it in a 3-ring binder I call a Life Book for each of them. I write to them about what they’ve done that year, how much I love them, what values I see them developing, and how proud I am of them. My mother started this tradition when she wrote me a letter on my first birthday, which she gave me when I turned 18 years old. Now that I have devoted my entire professional life to helping people through my work as an attorney in the civil justice system, I find it fascinating that one of the values she most wanted for me was that I would be committed to working for justice in the world. Perhaps it’s not surprising, because she wrote the letter in 1967, when the Civil Rights Movement was at the forefront of people’s mind. And yet, I can see how my mother continually worked hard to instill that value in me throughout my life. Even though I am incredibly blessed to continue to have my mother healthy and actively involved in my life at this age, I have a special appreciation for who she was and how she influenced me when I look back and read her letter to me from 1967.
If you have any reason to believe that you may have a shortened life expectancy this Mother’s Day, one of the best things you could ever do for your children is to leave them a legacy of a letter or a video addressed to them. I am reminded every day, though, that we have no idea when we wake up every morning whether we will be around that night. We like to believe that we can be safe – and in some ways we need to believe that in order to function – but the reality is that there are drunk drivers, gas explosions, medical errors, distracted drivers, and exhausted truck drivers, and encountering any of these randomly could end our lives prematurely with little or no warning.
So, this Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day), send your children a love message in a time bottle which they can treasure through the years, whether you are with them or not.