Lexington, KY – I read that a handwritten letter is usually better-said, better-heard and better-remembered. Not long ago I sat down with a box of letters I have kept and added to since childhood. I spent the afternoon curled up in a chair reading silly notes from friends I met at seventh grade summer camp, pouring over letters sent to me during my six week trek to Papua New Guinea in high school, and gushing over sweet words written on construction paper from my boys.
I feel lucky to have dated my husband before love letters were only sent via e-mail and thoughtful notes were mere text messages. I have a shoebox filled with correspondence between us during our long-distance relationship, and I love that our children and grandchildren will one day have these handwritten memories he and I shared.
At the risk of sounding overly nostalgic and whimsical about the art of letter writing, I will say that there is something about this forgotten practice that must be reclaimed for future generations. Facebook status updates, e-mail, text messages, e-cards and Twitter posts are merely temporary documentation of the events in our lives and are surely not the most worthy way to keep in touch with family and friends, express sympathy toward others or bestow heartfelt gratitude.
Here are four letters that should always be handwritten.
The Thank You Note
Having an attitude of gratitude is one thing, but taking time to express thankfulness is quite another. Whether sending a thank you card to the host of a holiday party or teaching children to show appreciation to their grandparents for birthday gifts, sending a thank you note is really important.
Here are five steps to writing the perfect thank you note:
1. Acknowledge the person, by name, that you are writing
2. Thank them for the gift, favor or act of kindness
3. Compliment that person (it can be as simple as mentioning their thoughtfulness or generous nature)
4. If you received a gift, share with them how you will enjoy using it
5. In closing, thank them once again.
The Sympathy Card
If ever in doubt, send a sympathy card. Mailing written condolences is often better than expressing sympathy in person, especially in public, which can produce so many emotions. Allowing those grieving to read condolences in the privacy of their home and on their own time is a much gentler approach.
Remember that the primary purpose of writing a sympathy card is to give comfort.
1. Keep it simple and honest
2. Share a fond memory or favorite personality trait of the deceased
3. Don’t write “I know what you’re going through” or “I understand the grief you are feeling.” You don’t; each loss is significant and unique for every individual.
4. Don’t try to make sense of the loss, avoid cliches such as “he is in a better place” or “she is happier in heaven.”
5. Offer to help by providing meals, running errands, childcare or household chores, but only if you intent to act on it.
The Love Letter
The website Art of Manliness (www.artofmanliness.com) offers some great steps to writing the perfect love letter. An afternoon at a corner cafÈ, pouring your heart out in a love letter, is certainly worth the time and effort and is a welcomed expression, whether you are newly dating or have been married for 60 years.
1. Start off by stating the purpose of your letter, such as “I was thinking today about how much I love you, and …”
2. Recall a romantic memory
3. Transition to a section about the things you love about them
4. Tell them how your life has changed since meeting them
5. Reaffirm your love and commitment
6. End with a line that sums up your love.
The “Thinking of You” Correspondence
The best letters are those sent “just because.” Take the time to be an encouragement in someone’s life for no other reason than just to brighten their day and let them know that you are thinking of them. These random acts of kindness are very powerful and instrumental in the lives of others. Writing an encouraging note to someone facing difficulty or disappointment can be an effective catalyst to give them hope for the future. Likewise, writing someone after they have achieved success or experienced something positive can motivate them to continue moving forward and striving higher.
I read about a woman who made it her mission to write a letter a day for a year. I am not sure if she met her goal or not, but nonetheless the sentiment is notable. I don’t imagine I will be writing a letter a day in 2011 but I certainly will strive to write letters more often, because, as writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.”