Working with and being the student of those facing the end of life for many years, I have witnessed what really matters in living and in dying. Prompted to examine the life I was living and the legacy I would be leaving, I took action on the lessons the dying had shown me.
I put together an album for each of my three sons to give them as a Christmas gift. It was a life review of sorts, filled with pictures and memories of our shared lives. Starting with their newborn footprints, I added not only pictures, but also saved drawings, cute sayings I was grateful to have written down, report cards, awards and even the “uh oh” notes a teacher sent home…everything that reflected their journey.
I couldn’t help but reflect on my own journey with them in this process, pondering how far they and we had come. Even recalling the more difficult times were reminders that we are resilient in love, and that we can learn and grow.
On the final page, I inserted a handwritten letter that included three things:
What I love about you
What I learned from you
What my wish is for you.
When I was done, I embraced each very full album as the treasure it was, and then tied up each one with a ribbon.
As they opened their album on Christmas morning, my sons became quiet as they thoughtfully examined each page: remembering, making expressive comments, occasionally looking up to say, “I can’t believe you saved this” or, “I’m amazed you put this all together.” Nothing was rushed as they relived the memories. When they were done, they had tears in their eyes. (Did I tell you that two were still teenagers?) They then each shared their album with each other, laughing, teasing and appreciating each other.
What an honor to create this gift and then have it received with so much appreciation.
I continue to hand write a letter each year to add to their albums, a tradition that has now spanned 20 years. Warming my mother’s heart further is the fact that, in that last several years, they have been doing the same for me and each other.
Pulling out and rereading these letters are great anytime, but will be particularly significant once one of us has died. There will be comfort in knowing nothing was left unsaid. There will be comfort in knowing that in spite of it all, we were loved.
This is a holiday tradition that honors the shared life and lessons of the recipient while warming your own heart. A two-in-one gift, I am passing the idea on as my gift to you.
The album costs nothing, but is priceless.
Wishing you all the blessings of the season.
Tani Bahti, RN, CT, CHPN, offers practical on-hand guidance to demystify the dying process. An RN since 1976, Tani works to empower families and healthcare professionals to have the best end-of-life experience possible both through education and helpful tools and resources. As the current Director of Pathways, Tani is also the author of “Dying to Know, Straight Talk About Death and Dying.” SevenPonds considers her book one of the most practical books on the topic. As founder Suzette Sherman says, “This the book I will have at the bedside of my dying parents some day, hopefully a very long time from now.”