In the aftermath of my father’s death, I received many phone calls, emails and condolence notes – each one of them appreciated. At such times, it is heartwarming and helpful to be both reminded of the past and of the good hearts of those who are still here.
Once back in the States, my sister and I received a long and unexpected letter from a family friend we haven’t seen in nearly thirty years. At first, I really had to focus hard to remember the face of the writer, a face that has no doubt considerably changed in the meantime. The writer lamented not having known until a few weeks later that my father had died, due to his constant shuttling between Bologna and Paris, and how sad he was to have missed the funeral. He then went on to recall the happy Summers our families spent together and what fond memories he had of my dad. The letter was personal, deeply felt and genuine and brought back sunny days, filled with laughter, that had been buried for a long time.
I am a firm believer in the power of words – or I wouldn’t been sitting here, day after day, typing away – the power words have to connect and convey feelings, across distance and time. As putting pen to paper comes easy to me, I write thank you notes, condolence notes and impromptu no-reason-necessary notes as often as people pick up the phone or type text messages.
My notes are mostly welcomed and acknowledged. While an email might be too informal, if sent to somebody we are not on familiar terms with, a note has often done the job of deepening a budding friendship or honored a person who was much loved. I shy away from stock phrases, or even what might be considered appropriate: I keep it to two or three paragraphs, and always specific: what a great time I had and why; how someone made me feel; vivid and personal memories of someone who passed; what I am planning to do with a gift. It’s not a formula but, rather, I take the five minutes I might need to think of a person/party/gift and how they made me feel. And then I let the recipient know.
The note will be discarded rather quickly but the memory will linger. And a meaningful connection will have strengthened.