I wrote the screen adaptation of The Ultimate Gift, which shows a grandfather leaving behind legacy videos for his grandson. Each one is an assignment designed to teach him something, with the hope that this spoiled kid, Jason, will become a better person. A person who could then get outside of himself and help others in the world.
The grandfather, Red Stevens (played by James Garner in the film) knew he didn’t have enough time left to help this young man change while he was alive. So he recorded the videos in one day, knowing they’d be watched over time. It was time he personally didn’t have; he was dying.
During the writing process, as getting into the grandson’s head to write his journey, I was struck by how frustrated I felt in penning his dilemma. I’d feel a range of emotions, of a kid who was on such a big journey with a person he’d been at odds with, who wasn’t even alive anymore to confront, to talk to, to challenge, to ask questions.
If you’re like most people, you probably think of a Will in terms of the document that specifies where your money and your material goods will go at the end of your life. How do you pass on the things you can’t see, though? Your values and beliefs, for example, or what you envision for your philanthropy?
An ethical will is a personal, reflective document that you write to yourself, for yourself. It’s a process to help you identify the values that guide your personal and professional life, and how closely your actions match your beliefs.
It’s not hard to write an ethical will, but it does take some time and thought. It helps to write the answers with pen and paper to start. Allow yourself to write freely, and avoid the temptation to edit as you go. Remember: you can always proof and polish it later, or record it as an audio or video file. Writing it out first with your hand is a way of embodying your message.
Begin by asking yourself these questions.
Today is the one-year anniversary of my grandmother's death. She died shortly before what would have been her 93rd birthday. I always knew she had great stories to share with us about her life, growing up in a Catholic family of 16 siblings, in Canada and the States.
Long before dementia harmed her ability to remember a lot of details about her past, I gave her a book called "Reaching Back." It was filled with over 100 pages of questions about various eras of her life and family members. Gratefully, when I gave this book to my grandmother, she willingly began to share her life story with me. It was the late 90s. She labored over page after page, using her own handwriting to fill in the blanks. She even added about six additional long hand notebook pages to elaborate on a story she wanted to be sure to leave behind.
My grandmother gave this book back to me in the early 2000s. I read it back then. But I can't tell you how meaningful it was to go back to reread this book after her death. How grateful I was that she took the time to fill in it! I was also glad I had the foresight to give it to her long before she lost many of her precious memories.