3 handwritten letters on a desk

Writing Letters

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A Way to Keep in Touch with Isolated Seniors

As Covid-19 is causing self or imposed isolation, perhaps we can use the time to renew the practice of writing letters.  Write to someone living alone.  To a long-time and far away friend.  To our parents – or our grandchildren –  if we cannot visit them.  If you have children or grandchildren at home – encourage them to write a letter to a senior who might be feeling isolated. 

The Letters: A Personal Story

My mother lived a 3-hour drive away.  Frequently, we used the phone to keep in touch. As often as possible, I visited. 

When she moved into assisted living, Mom had access to a computer room.  Therefore, we got the idea to use email for regular contact.  Subsequently, at age 85, Mom learned how to use the computer.  Impressive.

During my visits, I was able to give her some instruction.  Later, I would create a lesson, on paper, and mail to her. She would use this guide to master the next step in using email.  Consequently, Mom’s world opened up as she was able to connect with many friends and relatives.  

Then life changed. Mom lost a lot of her vision due to macular degeneration and moved into a care centre.

I felt very sad that our written connection was lost.  

I remembered having a “pen pal” when I was a teen-ager.  How I looked forward to receiving my letter and reading it.   And thinking about my response before putting pen to paper.

Thus, began “The Letters. ” Weekly, I wrote to Mom. Using a magnifier, she would read, and re-read the letters. Then we would talk about the news in our phone calls.  

The first letters were challenging. What to write?  What did I have to share that would interest Mom? And how to write it?  

The Letters: A Gift 

As the months passed, I began to look forward to my weekly letter-writing time.  Became an opportunity to pause in life’s busyness and reflect on the week.  Notice things done and undone.  Remember to be grateful. And, of course, to look forward to Mom’s responses in our next call.

After Mom passed, we found all of my letters, stored in their original envelopes in the drawer of a small magazine stand: a piece of furniture that Mom inherited from her mother. I have all the letters with me. Today, I am reading them. 

We also found some other handwritten letters. Three were written by Mom’s nieces. Warm, loving tributes to her kindness to them and their thoughtfulness shown to her.   And some from her grandchildren; thanking her for a gift or telling her about their latest activities.

I hope my story will encourage you to think about writing letters.  It is a powerful way to connect. For someone, maybe a lonely older adult, to open an envelope and read a letter written specifically for them is a gift.  

How to Write Letters

There is an interesting article by Maria Popova (BrainPickings) in which she reviews and summarizes the book:

How to Write Letters: A Manual of Correspondence 
 A 19th-Century Guide to the Lost Art of Epistolary Etiquette. 

J.W. Westlake

The general principles applicable to the composition of letters will be discussed under two heads : 1. Invention; 2. Expression.

Invention is the action of the mind that precedes writing. In all kinds of composition, there are two things necessary: first, to have something to say; second, to say it. Invention is finding something to say. It is the most difficult part of composition, as it is a purely intellectual process, requiring originality, talent, judgment, and information; while expression is to some extent a matter of mechanical detail, and subject to rules that can be easily understood and applied. A person can write out in a few weeks or months a work the invention of which requires the thought and labor of many years. Yet both parts of composition are equally essential. It is certainly a noble thing to have great thoughts, but without the power of expressing them the finest sentiments are unavailable

Maria Popova

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2 thoughts on “Writing Letters”

  1. When visiting our mother in her home, we her daughters, noted her going through her mail, bill by bill, envelope by envelope over and over. She was looking for personal mail and finding none. This was a clue for us to write weekly. From that point on she would find four letters in the mailbox every week– one from each of us.

  2. Pingback: Loneliness During COVID-19: A Dilemma for Seniors - Your Aging Parents

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