Contained within the storehouse of the memories of your loved one is a legacy of values. That legacy is expressed in the things you say, do and believe today due to the impact your relationship with your loved has had on your life.

Writing about your loved one in the context of a legacy of values offers you a way to speak from the heart and share with others the life lessons, values, blessings, hopes and dreams bequeathed to you by your loved one.

A Lesson about Grief from Grandpa Joe

My grandpa Joe died when I was 13 years old; his death broke my heart. He was the love of my young life and even now, over 40 years after his death, so much of what I know to be true and right comes from what he taught me.

Probably the most important lesson Grandpa taught me is that hearts can truly break from loss. And hearts can eventually heal. But even after healing, scars will remain as reminders of what was and what will never be again.

Grandpa was a baker and vice president of product development for a national food company. When he was not traveling for work, he lived with us in a small bungalow in a suburb of Milwaukee. Grandpa was my mother’s father. My Uncle Richard, Grandpa’s son, lived not too far away with his family in northern Illinois.

Adored would be the best word to describe how Grandpa felt about his children and grandchildren. And cherished. When Uncle Richard was killed in a car accident at age 36, Grandpa was shattered. I was 10 at the time, and watching him try to put his life back together after Richard’s death was frightening. And mysterious (it was my first real experience with death). And informative. I think it was Grandpa’s response to Richard’s death that led to my eventual career path of grief support specialist, spiritual counselor and resilience trainer.

My mother was stoic in her grief, rarely expressing what she felt, rarely – if ever - crying. Grandpa’s expressions of grief, on the other hand, were big and often uncontained. Sometimes Grandpa could be found sitting at the dining room table by himself, groaning and sobbing out his grief. At other times he would just look upward toward heaven, tears running down his face, and say out loud "Why?"

Grandpa baked to soothe his sadness. Baking was not only his vocation but his passion. What he loved to do most in the world, professionally and for fun. The weeks following Richard’s death, Grandpa engaged in a frenzy of baking: cherry pies; apple strudel; apple turnovers; meringues; pecan fingers; icebox cookies; sugar cookies. With the help of his grandchildren, he made hundreds of pounds of baked goods that were eventually given away. In grief support, we call engaging in activity to process loss “instrumental grieving;” Grandpa’s instrumental handling of his grief showed incredible inner wisdom that even now I find both humbling and reassuring.

Watching Grandpa grieve taught me something about myself: I’m not the stoic, not-gonna-cry type. Just watching Grandpa cry would make me cry in empathy and compassion for his pain.

Grandpa’s example also taught me that activity is a permissible way to process loss: just as baking kept Grandpa going those first months after Richard’s death, playing the violin and piano for hours every day kept me going thee first months following Grandpa Joe’s death.

Writing a Legacy of Values

When writing a legacy of values, first identify your audience (self, friends, community etc.) and reasons for writing (Honor your loved one? To gain insight? Find resolution? Let go? Heal something specific? Or?). Then:

  1. Make a list of the five most important values imparted to you by your loved one.
  2. Make a list of the five most important beliefs imparted to you by your loved one.
  3. Optional: now write a short sentence on each value or belief and how you apply it in your life etc.
  4. Optional: take two – five minutes and make a list titled: “I have learned …”.

Writing a legacy of values can take several forms:

  • Letter – an open letter is a simple way of imparting to others what you have learned from your loved one
  • Statement or essay
  • Short story
  • Poem
  • Combination/other – whatever from or words feel right to you

Guidelines for writing your first draft in the form you chose: Devote a paragraph to each belief or value and how this belief or value was instilled in you.

  1. Devote a paragraph to each belief or value and how it has impacted your life and/or various facets of your life (home life, professional life, marriage, relationships with friends, relationship with spouse, relationship with children etc.)
  2. Do not worry about punctuation, spelling or grammar – just write using a stream of consciousness style (no editing as you go but rather just allowing your writing to flow).
  3. Then, use your first draft as the jumping-off point to write the story of the impact your loved one had on your life.