By Karen Seashore
I speak up for letters. I proclaim their power. Letters tucked into envelopes. Pages you can hold in your hands and hear the paper’s light crinkle. This call is for us to write letters to those people we love but don’t see often. Because they live too far away, because we are too busy, because . . .
Because easing a fresh letter out of an envelope is like unwrapping a gift. It feels like love. They can prop it between their salt & pepper shakers and smile when they see it. A letter won’t wilt. It doesn’t include half-heard sentences or forgotten details because you can reread it. And read it again.
I write mine on my laptop. Of course you can write by hand. For me, computers make it a cinch. Printing your letter out and mailing it is worth more than 25 emails. And it’s so retro, pasting on that stamp.
It takes ten minutes if you just keep it going and don’t hesitate, trying to make it perfect.
Here’s how you start:
1. Write: Dear _____, (Aunt Betty, Dad, Mrs. Evenson)
2. Then, if you’re lost for what to say next, describe where you are or what you’re doing:
I’m sitting as close as I can to the dining room window right now so I can feel the sun on my left shoulder and ear. We’ve had a solid week of bone-chilling rain.
I have a few minutes now between appointments and wanted to write you a note because I’m thinking about you. Work’s going well. It seems lots of people want have their poodles groomed this week.
Just be real. Say what comes to your mind. It doesn’t really matter. You don’t have to be clever or write an opus. Your attention to your elder is what matters. Offer them some news about how all the neighborhood lawns have campaign signs for the new mayor or how you had to get your piano tuned. The main thing is you’re noticing them.
3. Fill in with a reminiscence. Like:
This morning a beagle squirmed under our gate. He reminded me of Binky. I laughed thinking about the first time you managed to get up on water skis behind the Glastron — we all cheered and Binky barked. But then he tumbled in off the stern and we had to stop to fish him out of Bear Lake.
Dear Aunt Betty,
I saw ants today crawling all over the peony buds, eating the sweet “glue” that holds the seams together. I always think of you and how you taught me how the ants’ work is necessary for the flower to open.
You‘ve certainly always taught me the “importance of aunts.”
4. Put in a sentence hoping they are feeling good (or “OK”):
I was sorry to hear you had to get your stent replaced. I bet you hate sitting around with the jigsaw puzzle gang and watching your walking club go out the door. You’ve always been very fit and the new stent will surely help you get out there soon.
5. Then print it, sign it by hand, and treat it like a hot potato. Get it into an envelope and pop it into the mail
Don’t feel guilty. Better late than never, huh? And never fall prey to the excuse you can’t think of anything to write. Make your margins big and print in a larger font and even a short note will fill the page nicely. Short and simple is better, actually, for those who are dealing with confusion.
You might not get a response. That’s OK. Just trust that your letters are important and keep sending them.
After my father’s funeral when his wife offered to give me box of the letters I’d sent over the years, in large font because of his eyes, I realized they’d saved them like treasures.
“I hope you’ll keep sending me letters,” she said, this woman who I thought resented me because I’d sided with my mother many years ago.
And when Aunt Betty in California says “the gals at the front desk love your wild stamps and envelopes from Idaho and I’m the belle of the ball” for getting letters, so rare in her retirement home, I know I’ve helped others notice her.
Trust me. Letters count. And you’ll catch a glow of “virtuous” when you drop it into that mail slot.
Bonus ideas (although don’t let them stall your letter):
•Add some comic strips you’ve gathered throughout the week if they remind you of your lucky recipient’s interest or humor.
•Add a forget-me-not from your garden. So what if it wilts?
•Keep going—once you get your mother’s letter done, copy it for your mother-in-law or your former neighbor. Be sure to reread it and change details that aren’t pertinent.
•Make a stack of envelopes and stamps nearby so that doesn’t hold you up. My husband’s aunt was so frail, I was always afraid she’d die before she got my letter.