Leaving a note

If you found out that you were going to die soon, what sort of note would you leave behind? Who would it be addressed to?

Don’t worry, nobody around here is dying (except you, Ben Pratt. And soon). I read the sidebar article about the little girl who died of cancer and left hundreds of little love notes secreted all around the house for her family, and I though that was one of the most touching things I’d ever heard. I suspect that my own notes would be more mixed: some love notes, some notes of apology (no note for you, Ben Pratt!), some notes of regret. Mostly, I’d want my wife and kids to know what a wonderful force for good and hope they’ve been. I’d also try to write little jokey notes to my friends to let them know that I love them, too.

The point of the exercise is not simply to generate maudlin feelings or a false need to urgently express love; rather, I was thinking of it as a form of Alma’s questioning in Alma 5, a means of generating introspection about one’s place in the universe and the role our human relationships have in forming our impressions. For that dying girl, her entire world was one of love for her family. That thought causes me to reconsider what it might really mean to be as a little child.

So, what sort of notes would you leave behind?


  1. As I’ve mentioned several times on NCT, I spend a lot of time thinking about death, even though I’ve never really faced it up close. Thus, I’ve actually tried to write such notes. My strategy was to write notes to my kids, one for each year to be opened on their birthdays. I tried to think of what I would want to say to them as they grew up if I were gone. My problem was that it was just too difficult and I could only finish a couple of them before I realized it was too painful to continue. My kids have grown past the ages of the ones I finished, so now if I die my 9 year old will get a note from dad on her next birthday specially written for when she turns 5.

  2. Antonio Parr says:

    Elena got it right. In the end, “I love you” may be all one can say to even attempt to capture the universe of emotions wrapped up into each life that we have been able to make a part of our own.

  3. MikeInWeHo says:

    Feeling a bit pensive lately Steve? Heavy stuff.

    I would want to leave something behind that made my friends laugh and maybe cry a little. Something a bit self-deprecating, nostalgic, and that expressed how much their friendship meant to me.

  4. I would leave a note to Sam to keep up the wonderful Stapley jokes. I’m still reeling from yesterday’s.

  5. That’s a tough one. I’m the type that writes notes, but I’m not sure if I would in this case. If I knew I were dying soon as was indicated, I think I would spend that time telling my family things rather than writing things down. I would want my children to know that I love them and will be with them even though they may not see me and that we will be together again. I would share my testimony with them and would remind them that they will find lasting happiness though living the gospel.

    What I find interesting about this type of thought experiment is that we never know when we might die (most of us, anyway) but I think we usually live as though our death were many, many years away. I think I would be better off I were to live as though I knew that my death would be in the near future rather than the distant future.

  6. Me too Alex. Me too.

  7. Hmm, interesting to think about. I think it would be kind of funny to hide notes in the air-conditioning vents, so if someone is standing next to one, they’ll feel a cold breeze and get a note from beyond the grave. They could say things like “Did you finish your homework?” or ” Please take out the recycling.” They’d know it was from me.

    Seriously, I read the article about the little girl and the notes to her family also. My oldest daughter is always leaving notes around the house for us (love notes or asking for a puppy notes), so I found it particularly touching.

  8. That story got to me too.

    I’ve thought abou this before, and I think the collective of all my writing- DM, MMW and BCC are a good start.

    But really, if I knew I was going to die, I would write sealed letters to each of my children to be read at specific milestones in their lives. I would want them to know the joy and love they graced my life with, and I would want them to know how very much their mother loved and still loves them.

  9. If I received such a note from a loved one it would become both a treasure and a historical record. A treasure becauasd;;;f

    Where was I? Oh yes. For example, the assassin I just defeated was carrying several long and sharp knives, a keyring, a yo-yo, a Post-It note with my name and office number in Steve Evans’ handwriting, and a very sweet letter to his grandmother. She will treasure that letter for the remainder of her life, and after she is gone it will allow her other grandchildren to keep their mercenary cousin in remembrance for generations.

  10. Steve Evans says:

    Ben, that was no assassin; I have hired none. It does match the description of my bishop, however. Odd.

  11. “But really, if I knew I was going to die, I would write sealed letters to each of my children to be read at specific milestones in their lives.”

    That’s a good idea, anyway, since we never know when we’re going to die. I also tucked a letter to my husband’s next wife in with my will, welcoming her to the family. Hope it never gets read, but if I get mowed down by a truck, it’s nice to have those things in place.

  12. ”And that’s why you always leave a note”

  13. Steve Evans says:


  14. What a touching story. It makes me think of what I want to say to my loved ones each day, if I didn’t have the chance to write a note.

  15. Latter-day Guy says:

    The story about that little girl was very sweet. However, I’m a horrible human being, so my first inclination would be to set up a series of very difficult, cryptic clues –– perhaps encoded in a small pyramid of some sort –– which would culminate in an absolutely idiotic discovery, like, say, “There’s a Bible secreted in the cornerstone of the Washington Memorial,” or something else equally stupid and pointless.

    As it happens, I do set up a series of increasingly difficult clues for my family every year at Christmastime, which they must solve if they want to get to the presents I have for them. If I were to find out I was going to die, I probably would start work on a very elaborate, multi-year series of clues, perhaps leading to personal notes, photos, books or films or music I treasured particularly, or something like that.

  16. Latter-day Guy says:

    #12, FTW!

  17. There has been so much death in my world this year that I’ve given this matter way more consideration than is healthy. I think I’d write love notes and recount special memories that I have about that person, maybe throw in a favorite picture or two.

  18. Steve, I thought the fellow looked familiar. The bruises should be gone by Sunday.

    Guy, you sound like a mashup of every Dan Brown villain and Mr. Piggle-Wiggle.

    No really! We listened to an audio version of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic on our road trip last month, and the last story in the book really is quite sweet, and (remarkably, for me today) is on topic for this thread.

  19. I need to make sure I leave a note with all of my passwords to email, Facebook, myspace, my boss’ phone number, etc.

  20. Latter-day Guy says:

    17, I’m only referring to one Dan Brown book really. The Lost Symbol is about as much fun as juggling colostomy bags: sure there’s some meager entertainment value, but it’s still s—!

  21. Several months ago an older woman in our ward gave a talk which mentioned her first husband’s death. She said that after he died she found a journal that he had written to her, and she briefly mentioned what a treasure this journal was to her.
    I was struck by this and started keeping a similar journal for my husband.

    It is weird to try and think what sorts of things I want my husband to think about after I’ve died, and to wonder what sort of things he would want to hear because the two are not necessarily the same thing. But since I’m writing a whole journal that takes some of the pressure off. I’m bound to get at least part of it right.

    The other thing to think of, to me, would be photos. Sure it’s all the rage to act like you don’t want your picture taken because no one wants to act vain. If you die will your children have pictures of you with them because *that* is what they’ll want.

  22. I’d hope Steve would leave me a thank you note. *ahem* MS Marathon *ahem*

  23. I would leave notes to my family telling them I loved them (how dull) and also of my testimony. My family needs to hear it. When I try to say it up close and personal-like, my daughter gets turned off and embarrassed. I’d also leave them a little note letting people glimpse into my inner life. I think. I’m so immensely dorky and gushy and idealistic and weird-stupid, that I usually let know one know the deepest part of me. I might let them in on some of my deepest spiritual experiences.

    And what queuno said.

  24. I am a lurker, but had to respond to this one. My father died when I was 17. He had cancer and lived for about 6 months after diagnosis. He was a wonderful father. I have only one letter from him, one that he wrote when I was 15 and away at music camp.

    All the important events of my adult life have happened without him. As much as I would liked to have felt his presence when I was married, or when my children were born, or when my mother died, there was no discernible link. I am now ten years older than he was when he died, and still I wonder how he would feel about me, decisions I have made, and events in my life that could not have been anticipated when I was a teenager.

    Write the letters. It doesn’t matter what they say in particular, as long as love and confidence are expressed. Sometimes we need tangible links of love and encouragement. Being able to brush your fingers over your own name, written by someone who is expressing love and faith in you, and then over the signature of that person who took time to write down their feelings for you – it can be a gateway faith and hope.

    Once when Emma and Joseph were separated Joseph wrote out a blessing for Emma. It must have been a powerful reminder for her that he was thinking of her and could invoke the powers of heaven in her behalf, even while they were apart. If you write only one letter to your spouse or children, try writing what you would say if you could lay hands on them for a blessing. You cannot know how much that might mean when perspective and a blessing are needed.

  25. The main reason I write my personal blog is to record my thoughts about things that are important to me, particularly the Gospel, so that – hopefully – my family and friends will have a record that will last their lifetimes.

    I wrote poems for my wife when she still was my girlfriend. I need to get back to doing that now – although I’m not sure I want others to read some of what I right now that we’re married.

  26. I think it would depend on when I was about to die. I understand the condition “gonna die soon” but in this hypothetical, if I were to learn that I would die soon while I was, say, 55, I think my view would be different on the note I would leave behind than at my current age. This is mostly because I have a 3 and a half year old daughter and I’d be really pissed if I were taken from this earth at this moment in time. If I found out I would die soon at this age, my note would express love and sadness toward my wife that I would be taken from her so soon. Then I would add some thoughts for my daughter indicating what I think she should do with her life.

  27. Steve Evans says:

    Matt, I sent one! I’ll send another today.

  28. Among the many notes I’d leave, I’d be sure to leave some for the few who have been less than friendly to me, saying: “I will yet be your friend.”

  29. Steve Evans says:

    I’ll leave one that says, “nice try, Jared.”

  30. lol :-)

  31. I think I’d try to play with my kids heads a little. “Daddy’s watching you from heaven now, so don’t cheat on any tests, or I’ll tell God.” You know, that sort of thing.

  32. Steve Evans says:

    Jimbob, how about, “I’m always watching you, so please don’t watch porn.”

  33. Latter-day Guy says:

    “Daddy’s watching you from heaven now…”

    Well that’s a recipe for sexual dysfunction if I’ve ever heard one!

  34. I thought this was a touching story, too. I threw away a lot of notes my mother sent me while I was in college because they didn’t seem important to me at the time, but since she died, I’ve saved every scrap of paper I find that she ever wrote on. It makes me want to follow my kids around, making sure they don’t throw away anything I give them. “You’re going to want this when I’m dead!” But fortunately, I don’t do that.

  35. If someone can let me know where to leave it, I have a journal I’ve written for Kingsley to find after I die.

  36. I turned away from the computer and picked up “Team of Rivals” – a book about Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet. I opened it up to a random place and started to read and immediately hit upon a passage that might be of interest to the topic of this post. It’s very moving and I ended up reading it to my wife. It describes a man named Edward Stanton the relationship that he had with his wife. It’s rather extended but I think it’s worthwhile reading (pages 176-177):

    “When he fell in love with Mary Lamson, he enjoyed what he much later called the “happiest hours of his life.” A marvelously intellectual young woman, Mary shared his passion for reading and study, coupled with a feminist determination that women could “regenerate the world” if only they were rightly educated. When their marriage produced a daughter, Lucy, and a song, Edwin Junior, Stanton had every reason to believe that fortune was smiling on him. His sister Pamphila later recalled that her brother seemed perpetually “bright and cheery.” As his practice grew, he had the means not only to take care of his own family but to provide for his mother and younger siblings as well. Stanton looked upon Mary as his life companion. They both loved history, literature and poetry. Together, they read Gibbon, Carlisle, Macaulay, Madam de Stael, Samuel Johnson, Bancroft and Byron. “We years ago were lovers,” he wrote her after the children were born, “We are now parents, a new relation has taken place. The love of our offspring has opened up fresh fountains of love for each other. We look forward now to life, not for ourselves only, but for our children. I loved you for your beauty, and grace and loveliness of your person. I love you now for the richness and surpassing excellence of your mind. One love has not taken the place of the other, but both stand side by side. I love you now with a fervor and truth of affection which speech cannot express.” His happiness was short-lived: his daughter Lucy died after an attack of scarlet fever; three years later, in March, 1844, his beloved Mary developed a fatal bilious fever and died at the age of twenty-nine. Stanton was so brokenhearted, his grief “verged on insanity.” Before he would allow her to be buried, he had a seamstress fashion a wedding dress for her. “She is my bride and shall be dressed and buried like a bride.” After the funeral, he could not bring himself to work for months … For months, he laid out Mary’s nightcap and gown on her pillow. His sister Pamphila, who had come to stay with him, would never forget the horror of the long nights, when, “with lamp in hand,” he searched for Mary through every room of the house, “with sobs and tears streaming from his eye,” screaming over and over, “Where is Mary?” … Fearful that his son, then only two years old, would have no memories of the mother he had lost, he spent his nights writing a letter of over a hundred pages to the boy. He described his romance with Mary from its earliest days and included extracts from all the letters they had exchanged over the years. His words were penned with an unsteady hand, he confessed, with “tears obscuring his vision” and an “anguish of heart” driving him periodically from his chair. He would have preferred to wait until the boy was older and better able to understand; “but time, care, sickness, and the vicissitudes of life, wear out and efface the impression of the mind. Besides life is uncertain. I may be called from you … You might live and die without knowing of the affection your father and mother bore for you, and for each other.”

  37. StillConfused says:

    I would not leave a letter.

  38. My doctor recently told me that I have but a few months to live, so I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about this question: what do I leave for my wife, my children, my grandchildren? What do I say?

    Then about two weeks later and on a follow-up visit, he said, “Oops! I made a mistake and mixed up your records with someone else’s.”

    I cannot describe the mixture of emotions: bewilderment, elation, and anger–and sorrow for whoever those records really belong to. But I keep thinking about that question, and I don’t really have a good answer yet. I don’t know what I will say in what I write, but I’ve begun keeping a journal regularly and I’m going to write each person something, for I will die though perhaps on a different schedule than I thought.

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