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Explosion of the Heart

legacy love letters and heart wills Aug 07, 2018

It happened just over two years ago. My heart was in my throat and I was starting to sweat. My 80-year-old Dad was sitting across from me in his kitchen-chair, an almost antique office chair with two-layers of seat cushions and armrests to help with the ups and downs. Dad was curious. I was determined. I had told him I needed to talk but hadn’t said about what.

Reena and I had recently wrapped up our pilot offering of Legacy, Love Letters + Heart Wills, a series of intimate workshops reflecting on the life we’re living, exploring who and what matter most and ultimately, writing lasting message to those we love—messages to be shared at the time of our death, whenever that might be. Workshop participants wrote love letters to their parents, children, spouses, friends or siblings to be shared at the time of death. You can click here to read one of the Love Letters written.

Creating a sense of urgency is the magic sauce in the recipe that yields actual letters to specific people. What if I get hit by a bus next week or on the way home; who in my life needs to hear what in order for me to feel some peace if I were to die suddenly? For some people, thinking about their inevitable death stirred a yearning to share what’s in their heart, now, so they initiated conversations they’d been putting off. These conversations let emotions flow and hearts expand. I wanted some of that with my Dad.

An explosion of the heart

I shuffled our chairs so we were knee-to-knee and I took his meaty, weathered hands in mine. With a torrent of words and tears I told my Dad everything I could think of that would have him feel cherished and have me feel at peace. I wanted him to feel in his bones the depths of my love and gratitude for him. I shared what I’d learned from him (life is beautiful and you have to work your butt off) and what I admire about him (his tenacity, courage and devotion). I asked for and offered up forgiveness. While we were at it, I also asked what he appreciated about me. I thought my heart would explode.

Tell them now

I knew that if I died suddenly at least I’d have no regrets with my dad. What I hadn’t anticipated is how this conversation would impact me two years later when I learned my dad was rushed to emergency and I was 2,300 kilometres away. My brother found Dad face down on that same kitchen table, unable to communicate. Thanks to the fast action and care of my brother and the blessing of Canadian healthcare, Dad is now back at home with a stent in a coronary artery and new stories to tell.

When I imagine the possibility of my dad dying from this ‘event’, I feel sick at the thought of him being alone and likely frightened and I lament the loss of my fantasy that I will be at his side as he passes from this realm to the next. At the same time, I also feel some comfort and relief. I feel peace. My dad and I are good. If he had died, we had danced this dance, curtsied and bowed. I have no regrets because nothing is left unsaid.

Bonus benefits

That conversation of two years ago was motivated by my fear that I might die unexpectedly. I hadn’t considered the impact of my Dad dying suddenly. Now I understand that an end of life Love Letter isn’t only about leaving a lasting message for when I die.

Some of Dad’s mantras include:

  • Be positive, worry about what’s coming when it arrives.
  • Smile, it costs nothing and everyone feels good.
  • No one is better than you and you are better than no one, treat everyone with respect.
  • It’s the little details that count.

What about you?

What would bring you peace?

How has the thought of your inevitable death moved you into action?