Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Your Aging Parent's Legacy, Pt. 2: Writing a Legacy Letter

It's a big occasion:  birthday, anniversary, holiday.  Your aging parent or loved one deserves something special. But what do you give to the person who has everything? 

Health Advocate Melanie Vetter of Wellfleet Circle as a ready response:  legacy letters.  She explained the concept in a presentation for the Certified Senior Advisors called "Legacy Letters:  Valuable Tools for You and Your Client." 

Legacy letters are a bit like eulogies, except the receiver is alive.  Generally written in second person, they address the person directly rather than speaking about the person in the style of a business recommendation. The letter highlights the person's positive key value, such as generosity, moral strength, humor, leadership.  True stories and memories follow to illustrate the impact of the person's life.

A bonus of a legacy letter is that it can be read over and over again. It can be read in front of a group, or to the recipient alone.   Either way, the person is honored and recognized for the legacy he or she leaves the world.

Vetter offers these tips for writing a legacy letter, whether it's to an elderly loved one or other family member or friend.  You can also write a legacy letter to a younger person, perhaps at graduation or marriage.

1.  The Why:  Think about what you want to say and how you want the receiver to feel when he or she reads the letter.  Focus on the values, traditions and wisdom he or she has imparted to others.

2.  The Story:  Include things that highlight your main idea.  These are the concrete things that make your letter ring true.  Thinks like taking hikes together, doing crossword puzzles, attending football games,  proofreading college term papers.  Your list will be as personal as the relationship between you and the recipient.  How have these memories shaped the person and illuminated their values?

3.  The Reflection:  Phrases such as "You have taught me..." and "You helped me understand..." show your gratitude to them for the impact on your life.

4.  The Love:  Tell the person how much you love them.  Show how grateful you are that they are an important part of your life and the lives of others.

Do you have experience writing a legacy letter?  Would you like to write one?




Your Aging Parent's Legacy, Pt. 1: Defining and Honoring It

Two words: Inheritance and legacy.  Are they the same?  And how do they impact you and your aging parent, and perhaps your children as well?

According to Psychologist James Dobson among others,  "inheritance" refers to tangible assets, the "stuff" we can see and touch: money, stocks and bonds, real estate, etc. "Legacy", on the other hand,  often has financial implications, but it is broader:  it speaks to the values a person has and gives to others, especially to subsequent generations.  A legacy could include such values as generosity, kindness, self-discipline, humor.

My father, for example, was a pastor in a small denomination in the Midwest.  By the time he died, he was on Medicaid.  A small life insurance policy, split three ways between my siblings and me, gave me enough money to buy a laptop.  Not a huge inheritance.

His legacy, though was larger.   I remember his kindness to parishioners given in big and small ways.  Every summer for 15 years he drove a carload of giggly kids some 650 miles to church camp along winding mountain switchback-laden roads.  I also remember him listening periodically on the phone as an alcoholic sputtered out his story at 2 am.  And there were the countless funerals in which Daddy gave himself unconditionally to the grieving families.  I value his example:  his legacy. 

How do we speak about legacy with our parents and with others?

First:  We honor the legacy we see in our parent's lives, now, and over the course of their lives.  If your parent has always been a giver, talk about that generosity with your family.  Stories are a wonderful way to do that.  In our family, we receive jams and jellies from my mother-in-law and little gifts of special cookies, crackers, and more.  Sometimes the stories illustrating
generosity are humorous, like the time our sons wanted Grandma to teach them how to make a pie crust.  A master baker, she tried, but both boys had all thumbs, and the session ended in laughter.

Second:  We think hard about our own legacy, and work to make it happen.  I'm not gifted in many ways,  but I can express my thoughts reasonably well in writing.  Hopefully my legacy will include memories of my notes, emails and other pieces of writing.  I also enjoy teaching my grandchildren how to bake and sew.  Small things, but they become part of a legacy.

Third:  We can write legacy letters to our loved ones , including our aging parents.  These letters highlight important aspects of a person's life and are illustrated with stories.  The next post will give more detail on writing these letters.  Health Advocate Melanie Vetter, of Wellfleet Circle, contributed much of the content on legacy letter writing.

Do you have any experience with celebrating a loved one's legacy? 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Your Senior Center: One-stop shopping for help and fun

 North Shore Senior Center is in Chicago.  Northshore Senior Center, similarly named, is in Bothell, WA.  These two are the largest and second largest senior centers in the nation:  Bothell has grown to 6400 members since it began in 1972.  Like similar centers across the country, these offer one-stop shopping for help, information, services and fun.

If you have an elderly loved one in your life, or you want to be prepared for the future, I'd advise you to check out your local center.

I live close to the Northshore Senior Center.  Four-plus years ago I began attending the monthly Greater Bothell Chamber of Commerce meetings held there. Both groups are not-for-profit and give back to the greater community in many ways.  After our meetings, I was able to see community at work.  Volunteer receptionists, mostly seniors, greeted visitors and answered questions, other volunteers checked in to begin their work and still others occupied a corner with coffee mugs in hand, chatting away.

Volunteerism, it seems, is the hallmark of this center which has branches in Mill Creek, Kenmore and Bothell.  Five hundred-plus volunteers, some seniors and others younger, perform unpaid work that augments the work of the 14 paid staffers, allowing the center to help more people.  "One lady has volunteered for more than 14 years, "says Garreth Jeffrey, Program Manager for the Kenmore branch.  "She's a receptionist, and is a great greeter."

Others give of their time in serving in the dining room, keeping the coffee shop running smoothly and working in the Thrift Shop.  Then there's the Pie Man.  He bakes pies to order once a week.  Many of his friends enjoy their favorites: apple and berry pie.  The price is reasonable.  And all proceeds go to defray the costs of the center.

What about outings?  I checked out the senior center's field trips in the catalogue and was pretty tempted.  Have you heard of the Meowtropolitan Cat Café?  It's Seattle's first Japanese style cat café.  Last year the group enjoyed it so much they're going again!  Each person gets to spend 50 minutes interaction time with the resident kitties.  Another field trip is a progressive lunch, with three stops for appetizer, main dish and dessert.  Back at the center's campuses, you'll find classes that include watercolor painting, quilting, woodworking and journaling.

On a more serious note, Northshore Senior Center has a social worker, and offers workshops on
Medicare, legal and financial issues, caregiving and more.

As I return to Northshore Senior Center from time to time, I discover new items, new classes, new services.  I'd like to hear about the programs at your particular local senior center.  Any thoughts?
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