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The power of the written word

In our digital day and age, of iPhones and tablets, of Facebook and text messages – it’s become all too easy to forget how important the written word is.

I lost my mom to cancer in the fall of last year, and not even twenty-four hours after she died did I begin a frantic search for her, for a connection to her. I listened to every voicemail, scrolled through her Facebook page, and physically looked through her closet. I needed to find her, some piece of her, that was tangible.

It wasn’t until I came upon letters from her that I realized this was tangible. This was more a part of her than any Facebook update or dress hanging in her room.

“Dearest Ang,

Wow, I can’t believe you’ve been gone a whole week. It still feels like you are just having a sleepover – until I look in the room ‘formerly known as Angie’s’ and then it hits me again, that you are gone.”

-May 24, 2001

I had just moved out, on my own for the first time when she wrote this. I look over her words, I touch them, and close my eyes imagining how she once held this paper. Her thoughts, her love, her treasured soul poured out into them.


Recently while visiting with my grandmother, she shared with me how important the written word has been to her. Early in their marriage and then just into parenthood, my grandparents lived out of state, away from family and friends they’d known their entire lives.

She checked the mailbox daily, religiously, for a letter from home. A connection. A simple hello, that would mean they were missed, and treasured, and cared for. She said with sad eyes, “We didn’t get many letters those years. I sure wish we had.”

I’ve thought about this a lot lately, the legacy we are to leave behind. How many handwritten letters will my loved ones have from me? Or is it all buried within the walls of my Instagram account? Hear me when I say I am a lover of social media; however, I’m realizing how important it is to also leave the tangible.

How can I do this? A letter to my grandmother. A journal for my children. A note left for my husband in his wallet.

For me, this is important. My frantic search for my mother taught me just how important it is. A conversation with my grandmother taught me just how important it is.

I imagine it is important to you too. We must show our children and teach them, so they grow to appreciate it as well.

Reading Time:

2 minutes





  1. Steph

    As a kid I used to write letters to my great grandma and a friend who moved away almost every week and they would write me back. I loved getting their letters and treasure the couple I still have. I don’t do much letter writing but I do send out handwritten thank-you notes and birthday cards (trying to be personal with them rather than generic).

  2. SuseFish

    Aw, I lost my mum to cancer too – I do sympathise and understand that ‘search’ for traces of them. Whenever I’m in the chemist shop I let my daughter have a squirt of “Nanny in heaven”-s perfume. Big hugs and thanks for sharing. x

  3. joanna

    This is great. My mother is sick now and I had recently thought of writing a blog of dear mom for the things she is missing to then have for my children. But I agree the written word is more touching. Thx for making me think about what I want to leave behind.

  4. Becky

    This is such a great post. My mom has Alzheimers so the mother I once knew is essentially gone. I have treasured reading the letters she wrote to me when I was in college and even came upon letters she had saved that I wrote to her from summer camp. There is something so much more personal about these correspondences and they have been a gift. I am trying to instill in my children the desire to write in journals and also yes write actual letters. It is nice to know others feel the same.

  5. Caroline Starr Rose

    When my grandmother died, I learned she’d kept all the letters I’d written while I was an exchange student. Looking back through them was such a gift and a way to reconnect with her.

  6. Yanic A.

    Earlier this year, I was reminded of the fun of penpals. I used to have them from all over the globe when I was younger and I wanted that for my kids. My daughter now writes letters (with my help of course) to friends and family. She loves it. As she gets older, I want her to feel that joy.

    Very sorry for your loss by the way. xo

  7. Kiki @ Choosing to Cherish

    Thank you so much for sharing this. We live half way across the world from our family. What an important reminder it is for me to take time to write and send real note/ letter for them.

  8. Diane McElwain

    Thanks Angie. I still write notes for folks. Words of encouragement, prayers mean something special to people. I know, they always thank me for it. Yes, we do want those connections with loved ones that have gone on.

  9. Jody Noland

    Wow, I absolutely love this! It is the mission of my life. My dream is to build a movement of people writing affirming letters to those they love. Here’s a link to an award winning story done by NBC about my work. More info and wonderful videos on my website http://www.LeaveN

  10. Brittni

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I think the tangibility of holding something a loved one held, and the memories triggered therein, are irreplaceable. I wonder how today’s tech driven world will change this for future generations, though. For children just growing up now, letters and notes may not even be something they consider special in the future. In some ways technology is a curse, in others, a blessing. I think it’s a fine line between technology that’s available to do things like capture memories, and using those tools to replace the raw connection provided by being there beside someone, or handwriting a letter to them.

  11. Lana Wilkens

    Wow – I teared up reading that…it is powerful, the written word. My hand cramped the last time I wrote a real letter…shows how out of practice I am!

    I love what you have said, and it moves me to action.

  12. Jonalynn

    I understand this sentiment. Today is the anniversary of my mom’s death. I used to call the house so I could hear her voice on the answering machine. This year I am getting a tattoo of the signature she put on the last birthday card she gave me. I just want to have a piece of her that I can keep with me.

  13. Polly

    I love this post. I often wonder what relics this digital generation will have to look back upon. I like the convenience of digital cameras, but I miss the “more permanent” nature of film and a picture I can hold onto.

    My mom wrote to me almost everyday at college — even if it was just to say that it had rained. Those letters were great to get when I was so homesick.

  14. Stephanie

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this too. There’s something about a letter, a postcard, a handwritten note…that is memorable and powerful.

  15. Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

    I’m truly sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. I had an aunt who was like a mother to me and I lost her after a 2 1/2 year battle with cancer. I know what you mean about wanting to find pieces of them to cling to as if we are holding onto them in a tangible way. Thank you for this wonderful reminder. The digital/internet era has its benefits, but we shouldn’t forget the tangible things that remain when we lose someone we treasure. I will be praying for you.

  16. Sharon Holbrook

    We are told to declutter, declutter, declutter. (And goodness knows, I need to.) But I can’t let go of my letter collection from my family. It sounds morbid, but I’ve actually thought “I’m keeping these; they will be a comfort to read after so-and-so is gone.”

  17. Shana

    This is a thoughtful, most precious post written as a reminder for all of us living in this digital age. In fact, I just received a postcard from a dear friend after years of not corresponding via anything handwritten. To have something tactile today is very refreshing. Thank you for writing this down, and sharing your story. It’s something that I plan to share with my mother as well.

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