Welcome to Part Two of our interview with Frish Brandt. (Read part one here.) Frish runs a volunteer service called Lasting Letters. A Lasting Letter, sometimes called a legacy letter, is one that carries one’s voice forward through time, so that the recipient can read the letter writer’s words and hear the letter writer’s voice long into the future.
Frish: Thank you for entrusting me with your process.
What’s wonderful, in my mind, is that everyone does have a letter in them. Now, you may or may not get to give that letter to the person you wrote to. But what it does give you, regardless, is the opportunity to articulate your thoughts and feelings.
So let’s take it back to SevenPonds and a person who’s nearing the end of their life. They don’t know how their kid’s going to turn out or what their drug-addled brother’s going to become or things like that. But writing a letter gives them a chance to be able to say, “I told you that this is what matters.”
So, for instance, the first woman that I worked with was a 37-year-old with two kids, 10 and seven. She was dying of cystic fibrosis, and she had a mission. She’d had an experience, and she wanted to be sure that, when all was said and done, her children would remember to be kind. She knew that she wouldn’t be there later, the way you are with a 14-year-old or a 15-year-old or even an 18-year-old. She knew she wouldn’t be there to say, “Dude! Just be kind.” So she wanted to write a letter. And, not unlike your letter, she didn’t know how it was going to play out. She didn’t know who her kids were going to become. She was writing the letter for her peace of mind, and, hopefully, for their peace of mind too. That’s why this is such an interesting medium to me.
Ellary: Do you work with a lot of parents writing to children?
Frish: I do. I work with many kinds of people, parents in particular. That’s really what drove me to write. When you’re responsible for somebody else, whether it be a child or a parent or a sibling, you want to be sure to put the things you’d like to leave behind in place.
I read a great quote recently, at the end of a long book. A father wrote a letter to his son and said, “I want you to hear my voice to the extent you want to hear it…And remember these things…” That’s very similar to the prompts I use with people.
Ellary: What kinds of prompts do you use, specifically?
Frish: There are many of them. For example, I include things such as:
What I value about you…
What my job has meant to me…
What I will miss…
Where I turn when I seek comfort and advice…
Favorite books and movies…
What to do about fears…
These prompts are useful when someone can’t get to the root of what they’re feeling. I pull them out, and then it’s much easier for the person to channel their memories. For example, I worked with a guy who had ALS who had trouble speaking. It was really helpful for him to go through the prompts and pull out whatever it was he wanted to talk about; the brain works in different ways than the heart.
Ellary: When you run a workshop, what is the format, generally?
Frish: I’ve used two different formats so far. The one that I did in Sun Valley was not so much a workshop as it was one-on-one sessions. The other was at a healing circle on Whidby Island in Washington State. It was kind of connected to Commonweal.
When I was there, I introduced the project and read some examples. There were about 20 people there. Some were caregivers, some of them were just curious, and some were people with a diagnosis who wanted to use the healing circle as a healing circle. I talked to them about what these letters are and read some examples. Then I worked with a gentleman who was part of the healing circle to create a letter. We wrote his letter, to his son, in front of the group.
Ellary: How do people hear about Lasting Letters?
Frish: It’s all word of mouth. If there’s one thing I’d like this article to do, it’s to ignite other letters — for other people not to be intimidated by it and to give it a try. The only thing they need to know is that they want to write a letter. They don’t even need to know who they want to write to. They just need to understand that they want to put something down on paper before the opportunity to say what they want to say is forever lost.
Ellary: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me, Frish. What you provide is unique and powerful. It’s clear that you’re very skilled at what you do.
Frish: Thank you!