Write Them a Letter Before You Die: The Stanford Letter Project

Have You Ever Written A Letter?

No, I am not talking about e-mails. Or birthday cards. Or small good wishes in pretty paper. Actually, you know I am not, you might be thinking that these are just good enough substitutes.

Have you ever written a letter that began with a greeting and ended with your signature, pen on paper, folded it neatly and encased it an envelope, posted it? Or maybe even handed it silently to the loved one.

Those who have will know this, there is no pleasure like reading a letter from a dear friend, family or even the occasional lover.

“When life comes calling, heed to it…”

The Stanford Letter Project is such a precious novelty is this technology driven world. It wants nothing, it boasts nothing. It simply is an initiative to relay back those last words which as so often left unsaid. It’s meant to bring a change, to do something about the everlasting human regret of having lost all those opportunities to say the right things at the right time.


To tell your beloved they looked amazing today. To say sorry to your children for not having been a good parent. To tell your friends that they have been dearer than family and owe more than one can thank for. To finally say the right things right now, because it is never too late until you die.

Dr. VJ Periyakoil, who is the director of the Stanford Palliative Care Education & Training Program has founded the Stanford Letter Project in order to encourage everyone to write a few choice words of gratitude, love, respectfulness and appreciation to their loved ones while they still can.

He has worked with a lot of old people in their last days for over 15 years now, many who have come to him terminally ill. The most candid conversations with them amounted to the revelation of one thing: regret.

His patients regretted not having mended broken relationships, not having expressed the care that they really felt, feelings of disappointment about the impressions they were leaving behind in the minds of their loved ones as being unappreciative and aloof.

Standford Letter Project


Dr. Periyakoil understands that healing is incomplete when just restricted to the body, it needs to be extended to the mind and the soul too.


How Can Letter Writing Help?

How effective and important is letter writing has been time-tested and fool-proofed. I remember reading Kafka’s letters to Milena, they did his personality better justice than any biography could.

Tagore’s letters to his many correspondents, to Yeats and Gandhi included, survive as puzzle pieces to trace back the ideologies of his existence. I cannot imagine what we would miss out on if we did not have the surviving legacy of those letters.

Stanford Letter Project
A specimen from the website.

It’s not about the history, no. It’s about the fragments of a conscience captured in ink to be preserved as a piece of art itself. Whether it is a 10 year of child scrawling I love you to her mom or an old dying man saying I love you to his wife of 50 years, letters carry ingenious sentiments.


How Does The Stanford Letter Project Help?


The Stanford Friends and Family Letter Project is described thus,

“With guidance from seriously ill patients and families from various racial and ethnic groups, we developed a free template for a letter that can help people complete seven life review tasks: acknowledging important people in our lives; remembering treasured moments; apologizing to those we may have hurt; forgiving those who have hurt us; and saying “thank you,” “I love you” and “goodbye.””

He is inviting everyone to participate, even the regular people to use the ‘healthy letter’ template from the project. When and how the letter is to be shared, or even to be updated, can be decided by the participant.

But ultimately the Stanford Letter Project aims to empower adults about their futures, to write that life review letter they never would think about otherwise. It may prove to be the most important thing that you ever write in your life.


Go ahead, write that letter. Say those things that matter to you genuinely, even if you want to do it without those templates. You will never regret it.

Read more:

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