Ethical Wills

I never knew my Great Grandmother, Martine. She died before I was born. I know she was French Canadian and came to Goose Rocks Beach, Maine every summer to run her own hotel. She was a business woman and she worked very hard. I know she was a great cook, and all her guests and her family loved her. She lived a long life to 91. I know what everyone else thought of her. She made an impression on them all, but did not leave her own impressions behind.

Ethical Wills were often written by women for their children long ago, because although they could not have a legal will, they did have something else of value to pass down. An ethical will is a written record of our important thoughts that we pass down to our families. It can include cherished memories, family stories, values, beliefs, knowledge, lessons learned, regrets from the past and hopes for the future. Maybe there were mistakes to warn about, but also risks that were worth taking. And it doesn’t need to be hidden away until after we are gone, an ethical will can be shared with our loved ones now. Some people choose to write an ethical will in their later years, but also during times of change such as when children or grandchildren are born, or on an anniversary of importance. For some it is a way to reflect on where they have been and where they want to go.

Many people keep a journal, and this is a great way to gather material and store memories. Others feel more comfortable making a recording or filming a video will. Some might begin by explaining why they are writing, and then relate what has been most important to them throughout their life. This is a place where one can share their memories, perhaps even retelling a time in history from their point of view. It can include historical and ancestral information. Some have used their ethical will, in part, to ask for forgiveness, or to grant pardon, to make requests or convey dreams for their families future. Provoking guilt or scorn however, would obviously not be an “ethical” will. For more examples and information on ethical wills please read Barry K. Baines book, Ethical Wills Putting your values on paper.

If I could ask Martine, I would ask her this: What time do you wake up in the morning and when do you go to bed? Where do you get your energy and your strength? Do you like what you do? Who is your favorite guest and why? Are you in love with your husband? Is working and raising children at the same time a privilege or a burden to you? Do you like to read? What do you read? Are you happy? What do you think the meaning of your life is or life in general? What are your regrets? Were you scared in the fire of 47? What about the war? Where did you get your recipes and how do you make baked peaches? Many aspects of our lives that we think are boring, might be of great interest one day to a curious great grandchild that we will never meet.