Late in April, I discovered the month had been designated as national card and letter writing month. Now more than ever we need to continue this trend well beyond a designated month. Today, two real-world instances offer poignant reminders to me of how letters can impact our lives. Reaching out to others now is especially important as we all need to practice social distancing more than ever before.
Some years ago, my father befriended a woman he met in cardiac rehab. (That’s a story unto itself and it’s a good one.) Having lost my mother in 1999, dad’s newfound friend brought him companionship, lots of laughs as well as some decadent desserts, which in hindsight makes me chuckle considering they were both recovering from heart issues. Dad passed away in 2016 and his friend has continued to stay in touch with us.
Not too long ago I decided to send her a note just to see how she was doing. She had taken on a new role in my life in an odd way. Not as my mother but as maybe a stand-in of sorts who offered the mature viewpoint and life experience (including baking and cooking) that I just missed after mom died. As I selected the greeting card and began crafting the message, I found myself struggling because we were just beginning to see the mean face of COVID-19 surface. The fact that I work in the senior sector where we offer programming and engagement — and the fact that she lives in a senior living facility — brought home to me, even more, the vulnerabilities for her and specifically for this demographic. I was a bit teary as I wrote the note trying to muster as much happiness as I could. I mailed the letter in late March.
Two weeks later, a perfectly penned letter arrived at my home. It looked like a primer for the well-known Palmer Method of penmanship and so resembled my mother’s handwriting that I was taken aback. It was uncanny my father’s friend had handwriting that so resembled my mom’s script. It was also uncanny that she was a wicked Scrabble player just like my mother had been.
In reading her letter I saw tones of isolation, seclusion, and fear. These feelings may be part of all our lives these days, but certainly, for the older demographic they also ring with unnerving finality. She opened with, “Everybody here in my building is going nuts with nothing to do.” Then added, she was getting Meals on Wheels for the last few months and shared how much that helps. She noted, “I hope it lasts,” and closed with, “I like to hear from you all to know what goes on because I feel like you are my family, too.”
That line still brings tears to my eyes. Now more than ever, we need to reach out to others. A call or Zoom is fine but so is sending a simple card, note, or letter just to recount details of your day or life. The recipient will enjoy “the conversation.” In some ways, today, I feel like we are connecting and spending more time on the things that matter and discarding some of the superfluous things that we so often had deemed important. That’s not a bad thing.
In addition to that back and forth correspondence, a priceless letter recently surfaced. Years ago, I sent a letter to one of my sisters. At the time it must have resonated with her because she saved it. She recently sent it back to me with a note saying, “Amazing what you’ll find while purging/cleaning.” She went on to say, “letters are rare now” but she thought I’d appreciate what she unearthed.
In the letter (dated October 1991), I told her “I am fine… the baby is moving a lot.” I also went on to say that I craved mint chocolate chip ice cream (some things never change), did not want to know the sex of the baby and, was debating on bringing the newborn home to either a crib or a bassinette. I closed the note with “baby just kicked me, so I think that means we need popcorn.”
In re-reading that letter, I relived the sense of pride and ownership knowing that I was protecting and nurturing another human being. It’s no surprise to me this letter surfaced just before May, the month celebrating mothers. I can’t wait to share it with my son. Said baby is now 28 years old and will be somewhere with me celebrating Mother’s Day at a distance of six feet or more.
The “aha moment” through all of this “discovery” is the fact that communication will always be critical to being human. Even in the darkest hours, we need to connect. Written correspondence, phone calls, Zoom, Facebook, Facetime, or online programs bring us together and create a sense of connection.
We must capture and relish the rich history we have from older adults. They have experience battling difficult times. They are wise and resilient.
With Mother’s Day around the corner, we are given another subtle reminder that life goes on. It’s our responsibility to carry the torch of those who have gone before us and to treasure the gifts of those who surround us now. Savor, cherish, and share special moments. Document history and showcase perspectives in time by communicating more. That’s the circle of life and a strong circle of love.
Today, more than ever, those old yellowed photos and tattered correspondence make our loved ones seem tangible and bring yesterday’s memories back to life. That is a legacy that keeps on giving.
Now, go write that note. Make that call. Connect with someone precious in your life. Both of you will be richer because of the effort.
Submitted by: Susan W. Sizemore, Communications Director, FiftyForward