Even after she is gone, that gesture of devotion will live on becauseshe has written it down. "I want my daughter to know she comes from a lineof spiritual people," Louise said.
The nugget of information is part of something she calls her "spiritualwill." Unlike an ordinary will, a spiritual will is a document that passeson wisdom and experience rather than money -- or, as Louise puts it, valuesrather than valuables.
Louise and her husband Joseph F. ("Joe") Colletti, have been givingworkshops on spiritual wills for the past two years.
The Connecticut couple came up with the idea of spiritual wills afterdiscovering the book "Ethical Wills," by Barry K. Baines, in a Vermontbookstore. The ethical will is a Jewish tradition that dates back to ancienttimes and also emphasizes a legacy of values over material things.
Louise, a family therapist, and Joe, a strategic planning consultant,had teamed up in the past to teach classes on quality improvement. Theresponse to their spiritual will workshops has been "overwhelming," saidLouise. "Incredible," said Joe.
Putting together this kind of will is powerful because it validatespeople's lives, Joe said. Sometimes people start off insisting that theyhaven't done anything very interesting. But taking stock of their liveshelps lead them to important insights.
Because every life is so full of detail, the Collettis have simplifiedthe process by designing a graphic that they call a "map."
It consists of a horizontal line across a page, divided into three orfour parts to indicate periods of a person's life. The space above the lineis for listing people from that period, below for listing events.
"The map," said Joe, "lets you step back and ask, `From all my lifeexperiences, what have I learned?' `What has my life taught me?"'
Joe said one of his earliest memories, at age 3, was watching his fatherboard a train, leaving the family to fight in Korea. He said this imagehelped shed light on his relationship to his own children.
The value of family comes up most often in their workshops, theCollettis said. Other values that come up frequently are friendship,integrity, honesty, independence, education.
Joe recalls that at one workshop, a woman at the back of the room raisedher hand and called out, "`Save for a rainy day!' It goes from theprofoundly spiritual to the pragmatic," he said.
The will should include words of regret, forgiveness and other lessonslearned, even if they are as simple as "I regret my alcoholism."
If people don't have confidence in their writing skills, they can useart or audiotapes to pass on their message, said Louise. But she believes inwriting things down, because writing lasts. Don't worry about spelling andgrammar, she said.
"Like anything that comes from the heart, it does not have to beperfect," Louise said.
Anyone or any place can be designated a recipient of the spiritual will.A woman in one of the Collettis' workshops said she had begun writing aspiritual will when her granddaughter was still in the womb. The child isnow 5, and the grandmother is still writing.
Spiritual wills can be given at weddings or birthdays, or can be read atfunerals.
"For us, the advantage of sharing the will while the person is stillalive is that it will stir up a lot of conversation and inspire commentslike `Tell me more about this,"' said Louise.
She gave her spiritual will to her daughter Michelle when the youngwoman turned 25. And there's no rule that says she can't start another one,she said.
One of the many benefits of a spiritual will is that it can assurepeople left behind that the writer felt loved. Louise says people worryabout it a lot, especially the elderly. "I wonder if my mother knew that Iloved her," they say. "I wonder if my sister knew that I loved her."
Here's a chance to put those doubts to rest.