Posted 2 months ago

Leaving Your Mark For Those Who Matter Most

Only one thing is certain on the day that we are born, and that is that one day we will pass. It is the life we lead in between those two days, the memories we make, and the mark we leave behind that matter most.

Nobody wants to think about the end of life.  For some individuals, it is not a choice or something they can wait to do. They must have these conversations, these thoughts, and take steps to plan for the time when they will pass.

One way to convey your thoughts, your love, and your gratitude for those that are special in your life, is to write a letter.

Stanford University has conducted research in this area and concluded that writing letters can help a person find closure, come to terms with the end of life, ease grieving for those left behind, and bring peace to those who author them. The research concluded that these letters written to family and friends can create the opportunity to express deep love, gratitude, and commitment. Stanford even created the Seven Vital Tasks of Life Review to ensure you can “achieve a measure of peace that comes from deep reflection about key life experiences, and the important relationships they have cultivated.”

Those Seven Vital Tasks of Life Review are
1. Acknowledge the important people in your life
2. Remember treasured moments from your life
3. Apologize to those you love if you hurt them
4. Forgive those who love you if they have hurt you
5. Express your gratitude for all the love and care you have received
6. Tell your friends and family how much you love them
7. Take a moment to say “goodbye”

“I have enjoyed each and every moment of this life with you. I can still remember the first moment I saw your face and held you in my arms. My memories are filled with your sweet smiles and your chunky tears and everything in between. I will remember you and everything about you. Although I will miss you greatly, I believe that someday we will be together again. On that day I will look into those sweet eyes to thank you once again for bringing more joy to my life than I could have ever imagined.  So until that day, good-bye. I love you, Mom.” This was an excerpt from  The Letter Box, A Story of Enduring Love – The Transforming Power of Letters from the Heart

Who will you write your letter to?  What will it say?  Where to begin when you decide you want to write an end-of-life letter? There is an abundance of resources online and the Social Work team at Ironwood is here to support you as well.

Here are some tips and advice to leave behind notes or letters for your loved ones that will create memories that last beyond a lifetime.
– Address the letter specifically to the person you want to read it. Use their name.
– Be specific and clear when you tell them exactly what you love about them and why you appreciated them so much in this life.
– Do not hold back! What do you have to lose at this point? The letter will be read after you have passed. Let your memories of them flow. Fill them with as many details, big or small, you can recount.
– Letters can be small like a post-it note or long like a novella. What you say in the letter is what matters most. The fact that you took the time to give that person their own, individual love note or letter, will give them a special memory.
– Have fun with the letters if your energy and emotions are up for it. Fill out birthday, holiday, or celebration cards for the future. Think of how amazing it would be for your grandchild to receive a card from his grandparent in the future.
– Include pictures, drawings, or maybe throw in a few dollars in a note that says, “buy yourself an ice cream on a day where you need a sweet treat to cheer you up.”

Leaving these letters behind is not physically challenging or an expensive activity. If your energy levels are low and you are struggling to find ways to make memories with your loved ones, these letters are a great option.

Although I could recite and share the extensive research done on the practice of gratitude, journaling to express emotions, or the benefits of end-of-life letters, I would like to take the chance to share a personal experience.

I am proud to say that my mother was an amazing woman who left letters for her children upon her passing.  It has been an amazing experience to open these letters, hear her thoughts, and feel her love come through the words on each page. Every time I miss her or feel sad that she is gone, I read these letters.  Each time is like the first time. Each time, I can feel her love.

My most memorable note she left behind is a post card of Italy.  My mother had dreams of traveling but her fear of flying kept her from seeing these dreams become reality.  On this postcard, she wrote a note to me, knowing that I too shared a love of travel and experiencing the world. The note said, “see the world for me, meet the people, go to the all the places I couldn’t, and live the life I saw in my dreams. Maybe start in Italy where you can have a glass of wine and plate of pasta.”

In April of 2021, my cousin and I traveled to Rome and Florence. I can assure you that I clearly remember that first plate of pasta and glass of red wine. Cheers to you momma!

If you are looking for ways to leave your mark behind or need additional resources for end of life planning, please contact one of the Social Workers at Ironwood by emailing them at socialwork@ironwoodcrc.com or call Supportive Care Services at 480-314-6670.


 Nicole McCallister, LMSW

Nicole McCallister is a Licensed Master Social Worker.  Nicole received her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State University in August 2017.  She received her Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Studies in April 2003 from Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI.

Nicole has spent the last 15 years working with children and families in the child welfare system of Arizona.  She completed a social work internship with Ironwood under the supervision of Kelly Huey from August 2016 through May 2017.

Nicole has volunteered with Ironwood’s breast cancer support group in Scottsdale after her internship was complete.  Nicole is looking forward to working with cancer patients and their families in hopes of supporting the positive change to those in need.