The Letter Writing Revolution

Revitalizing a Lost Art One Letter at a Time

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Letter to Someone Dying

Many years ago, when I was in my early 20's, I was living across the country in Whistler, BC. One of my dad's best friends, Al, was sick with cancer and after many months of fighting, it was obvious he was losing his battle. Al was a part of my whole life. I can remember him sitting at my parent's kitchen table for as long as I can remember. He was a fixture in our lives and in the early days, we would spend evenings at their home and they would come to ours to play cards with other couples. There was always lots of teasing and laughing. Al was a character to say the least and attempting to describe him in words would likely result in a less than accurate portrayal of this man. When I got the news that his wife had brought him home to die, I felt somewhat distraught as I knew I wouldn't be able to fly home for his funeral. I felt a strong need to express my thoughts and feelings to Al and so I sat down and wrote a letter and mailed it to his wife. I asked her to read it to him. I will never know if he heard or understood the words I wrote, but it was so uplifting for me to write the thoughts down and know that they would eventually be released to him whether or not he ever comprehended it. I knew on some level, though, that he heard my words.

Three years ago, my older sister received the devastating news that her very dearest friend, Rachael, had been given the news that the cancer she had recently celebrated the remission of, had returned and it had returned with a vengeance. Rachael was in her mid-30's and was a beautiful, glorious spirit of a woman. The cancer was aggressive and had invaded many areas of her body. Within days she was palliative and my sister few out to BC to be by her side. I was also a friend of Rachael's. I had met her through my sister and became friends with her when we both lived in the same city on Vancouver Island in the late 90's. We had been looking forward to a summer visit to Ontario by Rachael and her husband but we knew that this trip would never unfold as planned. I sent a letter to my sister to take with her to read to Rachael for me as I knew I would never see her again. This is the letter:

 November 2007

Dear Rachael;

I asked Lana to bring you this message from me. I know that we don’t know what the days/weeks ahead hold and so I decided to share some things with you that I’ve never gotten around to telling you. They’re the thoughts I have about you when I think of you, see a photo of you or when Lana talks about you.

“Life has a funny way of sneaking upon you when you think everything’s okay….”

It’s hard to know what to say when life throws a curve ball and you have no choice but to face it head on. Some things, I have learned, make absolutely no sense (at least not in my mind). I suppose if I were more religious, I might be less judgmental of the way things unfold sometimes.

I want you to know a few things, Rachael. When I think of my life so far, I think of the many people with whom I have crossed paths. You are one of those people who played a big role in my life when I initially moved to Victoria and felt lost and very alone. I recall meeting you for coffee and a smoke!! You lifted me up and I thought that one day I’d like to be “cool” like Rachael. I’m still working towards that!! I always felt a sense of security knowing you were in that city.

You are the best hugger. I have never met anyone who puts their whole entire body into a hug as you do. You can feel that it is genuine. I’ve never liked the ‘patters’. You know, the ones that cautiously lean in and pat your shoulder blade with their hand as though you might bite. I hate that!! You are an excellent hugger, Rachael. You could teach a class on how to hug properly!!

Let’s see………your laughter is unique and I can hear it in my head if I sit quietly. Bellowing and husky and never fake. I remember the times that I would see you at the Mocha House, you would have a big smile on your face and always be laughing about something!!

You probably don’t remember this but when I was feeling really low, you handwrote the piece “On Pain” by Kahlil Gibran and those words were so powerful that to this day. I have that page glued into one of my books of collected treasures. When I read the line: Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding,” I recall a shift taking place within myself and I think that it was then that I began to understand that the suffering I was experiencing had a purpose. That time was many, many years ago and I suspect you don’t even remember doing that. I just want you to know that I have never forgotten your kindness in that time in my life.

I am thinking of you every single minute of the day and praying for miracles.
I love you! Shine On……..
Love Julie

Rachel died within three weeks.
Beautiful Rachael

In early November, my 92-year-old Grandmother, suddenly became ill and was soon hospitalized with congestive heart failure. We assumed she would perk up and return home in no time but we quickly realized that her body was tired and was shutting down. After five weeks in hospital, my parents made the decision on Christmas Day to bring her home to die. This was not uncommon in my parent's lifetime but now with hospices and chronic floors in hospitals, most people die away from home. My mother was a Registered Nurse for over 40 years and so she feels very comfortable in caring for her mother-in-law at home in these final days. There is a lot of family around to make this possible and we all feel very privileged to be a part of Grandma's end of life care.

Prior to bringing her home, I met my older sister in Ottawa and she handed me a letter to bring to Grandma to read to her just in case she didn't get a chance to see her alive again. I brought the letter to the hospital on Christmas Eve day and explained to Grandma who the letter was from and proceeded to read it. My sister wrote down her thoughts of Grandma and the impact she has had on her life. I know that Grandma understood everything I read and I know that my sister had closure knowing that should she pass away before my sister made it home again, her words were not left unspoken. She did end up seeing her again over Christmas and is now making arrangements to come and sit with Grandma as we have someone by her side 24-hours a day now. You can read a beautiful post about our Grandma at my younger sister's blog at The Knitty Gritty Homestead, if you wish.

Grandma with my niece~2010

I have lived very close to my Grandmother (within 300 metres) for the past six years and have had the opportunity to visit with her regularly. I feel as though I have had the chance to share my thoughts with her many times over and I know she knows how much I love her. I encourage those of you who cannot be close to someone you love who may be in their final stages of life, to sit down and write to them. Share all of the thoughts in your heart and have someone you trust read your words to them. You will not regret it knowing that you said everything you needed to before the chance was gone forever. And the person who is dying will feel your love and will appreciate leaving this earthly plane with the knowledge that their life had a positive impact on another's life.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Letter to Santa

I grew up in an Irish Catholic home and a part of the Christmas celebrations included Santa Claus. We had a good balance of the "real" meaning of Christmas along with the all of the other parts that make up this festive time of year. Between choir rehearsals, Sunday school classes and attending a Catholic School, we also had a Christmas tree, Christmas baking, shopping and gifts from Santa.

On Christmas Eve, after opening one gift (usually new pajamas), mom and dad would bundle us up and usher us out to the car for midnight mass. My sisters and I often had songs to sing that we had learned for this occasion. I can still sing them and can hear my sister's descant and alto voices combining with mine. I was usually soprano although I know that there was a descant singer busting to get out (this is where my sisters will crack up while reading this!). After mass, we would go home to the table set and a meat pie coming out of the oven. Then, we would set up some cookies, a glass of milk and our letters to Santa expressing our heart's desire and explaining the moments in the year when we were not-so-nice and justifying why we really did deserve the things we were asking for. My dad would also throw in some carrots for the reindeer and a bottle of beer for Old Saint Nick. This is an ancient Irish tradition, apparently.

I was wondering if children still write letters to Santa or does Santa get emails or texts now? I know that Canada Post offers an awesome service where children can send their letters to: Santa Claus, North Pole, HOH OHO, Canada. Each letter gets a reply from Santa himself.  I want that job next year.......writing letters back to the children on behalf of Santa Claus. I may look into that. Check out this blog for a wonderful post on being a Santa Letter Responder (Thanks to PamelaArtsinSF for letting me know about this post!).

A few years ago after my husband and I blended our lives, I came across a letter he wrote to Santa when he was probably around 8 or 9 years old. His mom had tucked it away with various papers and it managed to survive the years. This is what it says:

Dear Santa;

I don't want to much but it costs $18.96. 
It is Road Atlanta (page 449) 
and 3 position laser rifle (page 440). 

Love Timmy Graham

P.S I think it will be quite a bit of money so 
you don't have to give me them.

The page references would have been for the Sears Christmas Wish Book. Every kid growing up in the 70's in Canada anticipated the arrival of this special catalogue. The "P.S" bit cracks me up and breaks my heart at the same time. My husband is a gentle and caring soul who would give the shirt off his back if it were needed. He will do without before he will have someone be in need. Even as a young boy he was thinking of Santa and how much it might cost for Santa to actually give him the things he wanted.
Tim with Santa (circa 1976)

I know a lot of parents today who don't believe in buying into the whole "Santa Claus" thing for fear of "lying" to their children about an imaginary elf who flies through the air and manages to deliver presents all over the world in one night to "good" children only. I say we have gotten way to politically correct and serious. I think I knew early on that this whole Santa thing was a bit of a stretch but continued to pretend to believe in Santa much longer than I actually did for my parent's sake. My parents did a good job of teaching us the true meaning of Christmas while also creating glorious memories of the magic of it all. And contrary to popular belief, I don't remember a lot of the things I got but what I remember is the "feeling" of Christmas: warm pajamas, special treats, my dad reading "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" every Christmas Eve, candles burning and Elvis's Christmas album playing in the background. I remember knowing that this was a very unique time of year and learning the importance of tradition and family and being grateful. To this day, I can close my eyes and can access that "feeling" of anticipation when we would leave out our letters for Santa and go to bed knowing that when morning came, Santa would have left behind cookie crumbs, an empty milk glass, an empty bottle of beer (he was very thirsty!) and we would miraculously receive the very special gifts we had asked for.

"Wishing all of you, TLWR followers and readers, a very joyful & magical holiday season however and whatever you celebrate. I will be back again in the new year."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Hard-to-Receive Letter

I have written before about the Hard-to-Write Letter and the letters that allow one to get things off their chest and move on. Letters that you might write to an ex-husband, a deceased friend or relative or a letter you might write to someone who you feel has wronged you.

Although this blog focuses on writing letters and the joy you can bring to another by sending a letter, I hadn't really put much thought into the experience of someone who receives the Hard-to-Write Letter until I received a letter this week that contained a few paragraphs that were Hard-to-Read.

The good thing is that while this letter was in transit, the writer had called me and we had discussed many of the things written in this letter. But once I received the letter and saw the words on paper, I was hit with all kinds of emotions. Perhaps these letters are therapeutic to the writer but not so much to the recipient. I want to be clear that the letter was not a sharing of feelings between the writer and I directly but more of a letter of concern regarding myself and another person. It was the assumptions and the miscommunications that preceded this letter that made my blood boil.  And what does one do with that? I suppose writing a letter back expressing my perspective and clarifying the misconceptions of the situation might have helped. But, honestly, I needed instant resolution and even email wasn't going to cut it.

I picked up the phone and talked with the writer for quite a while and thanked them for the phone call prior to my receiving the letter as I am not sure how I would have reacted had I had no warning of the contents of the letter.  I suppose if one is writing to really "give it to someone" who has wronged them then they're not going to care so much about the recipient's feelings. This was a different scenario but had me considering the importance of how and what I write to someone I care about. The writer of this letter is a dear friend and she meant no harm whatsoever. Her intention was to inform me of a situation that I was supposedly involved in. Had I been made aware of this solely through the letter, it would have been very difficult.

Letters are awesome in most situations but some situations warrant a phone call or a face-to-face conversation, indeed.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

New Year Project

I mentioned a while back that I was seriously considering a 365 project. Basically, there is a whole movement out there celebrating and promoting creativity 365 days of the year. There is even a very inspirational blog and book about the subject. Check it out here. You can purchase the book or visit the blog for ideas on starting your own 365 Project.

I thought that writing a letter every day of the year would not only be very challenging but perhaps therapeutic and cleansing. I suppose I would have to get very creative as far as who I would write to each day as it wouldn't take long to run through my address book. I would begin to receive letters in reply and then answering those letters would count towards the project. The thing is when I put my mind to something or make a decision, I stick to it come hell or high water. That's what scares me about launching something like this. I have a lot on my plate with being the mother of a child with special needs, running a home business, attempting to turn myself into a Pin Up Girl by April 2011 and the myriad of other things that make up one's life. Do I want to add yet another challenge to the mix?

I do write a lot of letters and could easily make a list at the start of each month and then write one letter per day as opposed to five on one day like I would normally do. I would have to spread it out and set aside 20 minutes each day for the letter writing experience. I almost said "letter writing task" but that sounded like it was a chore as opposed to something fulfilling for the soul (both mine and the recipient).

Then I thought I could make it a 260 Day Project and take weekends off but it didn't have the same ring to it. I may do some research on the topic by visiting the blog of someone who actually did the same project this year and is presently on Letter #344. It is a guide blog of sorts and could provide much needed inspiration if I (or you!) decided to embark on such a project.

What do YOU think? Anyone else remotely interested in doing something like this?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Letter Writing and the Environment

I have been wanting to address this topic for some time. After visiting the Letter Writer's Alliance blog, I was motivated to write about it. Thanks, Donovan!

I consider myself to be an environmentalist recycling everything I possibly can, walking instead of driving, washing our clothes on the cold cycle, bringing my own dishes to functions rather than using paper products, etc. One day, while admiring the pile of letters on my kitchen table about to be mailed, it dawned on me that I am buying and using paper for letter writing when perhaps, I could send the same messages via email or phone and save a tree per year. I thought of my dear friends, Val and Stephan of  iD2 Communications who "specialize in the ethical management and production of communications with a focus on sustainability." You will never meet two people more knowledgeable about the impact of our actions, purchases and choices on the environment as Val and Stephan. I wonder what they think of my Letter Writing Revolution. I wonder if they shudder at the thought of more and more paper being used for something so wasteful as letter writing.

If you are concerned about the environment and want to continue letter writing, here are some ideas to continue this hobby while reducing your impact on Mother Earth:
1) Recycle old cards by cutting in half and using as postcards.
2) Take letters/cards that you planned to recycle and instead re-use by making homemade paper to write more letters!
3) Cut up cardboard packaging and create unique, one-of-a-kind mail art.
4) Make sure that what you write is worth saving for years to come :-) Check out the Gardening Nude blog where Shawna writes about staying green while sending out greeting cards."If you think what you are sending is going to be looked at and tossed immediately in the recycling bin, then it is not worth sending."

How do you make letter writing more environmental?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mail For Me

It turned out to be a fluke! I have had mail today and yesterday. I hope to never see that box empty again. Such a disappointment especially now that I am spoiled with regular fun mail.

It is a cold and snowy Friday here in rural Canada. My family is preparing to spend a weekend in a cabin together to celebrate an early family Christmas. My brother and his fiance are travelling from Toronto today, my older sister and her family are coming from south of Ottawa and my younger sister and her family live in close proximity to this cabin. My husband and I cannot spend the entire weekend there due to Meredith's needs but we will join the clan early Saturday morning until late Saturday afternoon.We decided to keep things simple this year and just give some gifts to the children and then give each family a Christmas tree ornament. We had even thought of writing letters to one another in lieu of gifts but when we saw the panic-stricken faces of my husband and brother-in-laws, we decided to go with the ornament idea.

I wish to draw your attention to a couple of blogs I have been introduced to this week. The first one can be found at Sending Petals and is a blog about writing letters although not necessarily handwritten letters. This boy and girl blogging team are in Toronto but travel around to schools in Toronto and Ottawa teaching children about the art of letter writing. The second one is Writing and Scribbling which is a blog dedicated to pens, paper, ink and anything that makes writing enjoyable.The majority of his focus is on writing in journals but his December 9th post deals specifically with letter writing. Both blogs are worth checking out. This Blogger even gave me some tips (no pun intended) on purchasing a good fountain pen to add to my letter writing experience. Thanks, Halden!

I find that Friday posts are always made up of various news and I am looking for a theme for Friday's posts. Something that is catchy and that illustrates the mish-mash of topics/ideas/revelations that tend to be written on Friday. Any ideas are greatly appreciated. Post them in the comments below!

I wish all of you a wonderful weekend wherever you may be.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Empty Box

I have apparently grown rather accustomed to receiving mail on a daily basis since starting TLWR. I went to the post office yesterday (one of my favourite parts to a standard day) and was shocked to discover the box was empty. Surely they were behind on the mail sorting being the holidays and all. I went inside to the main office and asked the Post Master if all of the mail had been sorted to which she replied, "Yep." What??????

Since June and even before TLWR, I don't remember ever having an empty mailbox. But there it was. Not a letter. Not a postcard. Not a bill. Not even a flier. I trudged home in the freezing cold Canadian winter wind feeling remarkably let down. The good thing is that I know when I check my mail today, there will certainly be some. Right?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Letters to Meredith

Seven years ago yesterday (December 5th) our daughter, Meredith Ocea, was born to us at 7:23pm. Sadly, at the time of birth, Meredith suffered an abrupt lack of oxygen. She was air lifted to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) soon after her birth and remained there for the first ten weeks of her life. Initially, we thought she would be home within a few days but when she was five days old, she underwent an MRI and we learned that our perfect daughter aquired a severe brain insult from lack of oxygen and would likely have severe cerebral palsy. The following excerpt is from a letter written in those very early days to Meredith by my father before we knew what the future would hold.

Sunday, December 7th 2003
Dear Meredith;

When you arrived on Friday night, you sure made a big impression on me, your Papa. I think you knew that Papa likes to tease so you thought you would start by teasing him first. As I stood there waiting for the ambulance, my heart was racing. Your dad got in the ambulance with you and I followed in my car. As I waited out in the hall I prayed for you and hoped so much that God would hear me............
When your dad brought me in to see you, it was love at first sight. You were so beautiful with your long, black, silky hair, your rosy cheeks and your perfect body. You opened your eyes but when you saw me you squeezed them shut again. I think you wondered, "Who is that funny looking old guy???" 
Papa was 60 years old when he had his first ride in a helicopter but because you were a princess, you got to ride to Ottawa in a helicopter when you were only 5 hours old. When we got to Ottawa, we rushed in to see you again. I swear, even with all the tubes you had in you, you were the prettiest astronaut I had ever seen....................
...........I already have so many plans for you: walking up street for treats, going to the playground, biking in the woods, reading books to you, cuddling you and kissing you good-night.
Sleep tight, my little princess. See you tomorrow.

All my love, hugs and kisses,

Papa with Meredith: December 2003

And this excerpt is from a letter my sister, Stephanie, wrote to her newest niece, a week following her birth.

December 12th 2003

Dear Little Meredith;
One week has passed since the day of your birth! I have learned so much about love, faith, hope, prayer, strength and miracles in these last seven days.....makes me wonder what else you will teach me in the years to come.

We all fell in love with you immediately. Any one of us would have traded places with you in a second, to free you from all the tubes and monitors you needed in those first few days. I spent a lot of time in the CHEO chapel praying and crying, when I wasn't gazing at you through the incubator.

You impressed us daily by performing miracles mini and mighty! Day after day, different tubes were removed, your temperature stabilized, medication doses were decreased, and yawned!! You opened your eyes!! Your dad can hardly take his eyes off of you for a moment.

You are such a fortunate little person, Meredith. Your parents love each other deeply and couldn't be more proud or thrilled to add YOU to their love! You have humbled me. I know now that so many things I used to worry about were not worth the trouble. You have taught me that love and miracles have no limits and that angels can appear in the shape of midwives, paramedics, nurses, doctors and of people we have known our whole lives who are hoping and praying and sending love to us all.  You are celebrated, welcomed and so loved!! We are blessed to have you as the newest branch on our family tree. Some day we will sing silly songs together!

Love Your Aunt Stephanie

Aunt Stephanie and Meredith in the NICU: December 2003

When Meredith was 2 years old, we were told that she likely wouldn't live past the age of 7 or 8. Meredith joyfully celebrated her 7th birthday yesterday with her cousins and friends dancing around her making her laugh, singing, a Nemo birthday cake and most of all the people who were with her on the day she was born. Although, she will never comprehend the words so eloquently and lovingly put to paper by her Aunt Stephanie and her Papa at the time of her birth, we know that she has always felt the love that surrounds her and has always known on some level how much she was wanted, how grateful we are that she was born into our family just as she was and that we never take the moments, days, weeks, months and years we have with her for granted as we know our time together is limited.
 Happy 7th Birthday, Moodie, my love! You've come a long way, baby!

Our little family: Spring 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mission Accomplished

I have managed to write my Christmas cards for the first time in many years. I wrote a card to 99% of those who are listed in my address book. If I know you well and you don't get a Christmas card from me, do not take it personally. I simply didn't have your snail mail address. I am looking forward to dropping them all into the mailbox the day following our daughter's birthday.

I enjoyed the task of writing personalized notes and inserting a family photo into each one (unless I see you regularly or thought it weird to send you a family photo). I created a morning ritual of lighting candles on the kitchen table, pouring myself a large mug of coffee and then gradually working my way through my address book.There is something so satisfying about making personal contact with those whom you may have been out-of-touch with for some time. This time of year is a perfect opportunity to rekindle those lost relationships. Write a card. Write a letter. Pick up the phone.

I have already received my first Christmas greeting. My Aunt Marilyn sends her cards out before she leaves for her winter getaway in Florida. I am sure that we will all be getting more mail than usual in the coming weeks.

As an aside......

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, you may also enjoy my brand new (launched last night!) blog which is totally unrelated to letter writing. You can find it at