Letters of Healing

By: Michelle Gunnin

Letters strung together make words.  Words are the building blocks of sentences.  Sentences in sequence create paragraphs.  Paragraphs formed make-up letters.  Pretty cool how that comes full circle. Letter writing is a lost art in our world today.  In my grandparents’ day, it was the means of communication that was cheapest.  Expensive long distance phone calls were reserved for special occasions, and so letters from family and friends were highly anticipated. Now, even hand-written thank you notes are fading from view and letters are a rare treasure as infrequent as a snow storm in the South.

I have a theory that our country was healthier in the days when sending a letter was commonplace.  Seems to me, that putting all your thoughts onto paper and sharing them is a form of processing our lives.  If the harvest was good, joy was communicated.  If you lost a loved one, the sadness was shared.  Frustration with politics, a celebration of marriage, gratitude for a gift – the whole range of emotions was expressed.  Even anger came up-and-out on the paper of some letters, and though many of those letters never got mailed, they still served their purpose of allowing thoughts to have a voice.  Letters were the therapy of their day.

My favorite missives from the past are the love notes.  Soldiers sending all their feelings home in an envelope, things they dared not say in person. The girl back home saved those letters in a shoe box that was stored away to be discovered one day in the future by their grandchildren. Originally written for one, then transformed into a record of their love for generations after to contemplate. A letter was a gift of the heart.  No matter if it was a short postcard from some National Park or a long letter of recent small town gossip, something was comforting about words penned on paper showing up in your mailbox. It was a feeling of belonging, a sense of home.  I think we are missing that feeling in these days of instant messaging.  The thought and care behind writing a letter have been lost to harsh words that bring more pain than positivity.  It is unfortunate that words have become weapons.

My blog The Gift of Words inspired me to expand from gifting notes, to letters of healing.  I fully believe that letter writing is as much of an internal exercise as it is an external one.  It can bring connection and healing to relationships, but also to our own hearts as writers. What writer doesn’t need to be more connected to his/her own thoughts and feelings?  And what better way to start than writing a letter to bring HEALING?

  • H– Heartfelt. A letter should be heartfelt because the reader can tell if it is insincere.  Even if you are just sharing the latest news, an open heart can be communicated with words. In friendship or even romantic relationships, the openness of the sentiments on paper can transfer to genuine feelings. If you are writing to yourself, or to someone from your past who will never receive your letter, the more heartfelt, the better.  You will find this exercise freeing because it is therapeutic.
  • E– Encouragement. Encouragement means ‘the act of putting courage into.’  When writing a letter, pouring courage into the recipient will give them a boost.  It lightens their load and inspires them to keep going. When you write to build others up, you will find your own courage rising, and that is a good thing. Somehow to make someone else feel positive paints a smile on your own face, and everyone could use more smiles, right?
  • A-Affirmation. Similar to encouragement, affirmation written out in words is fuel for the fire within. Letters that contain this treasure are usually saved to be read again and again. It feeds the soul.  It reminds the reader of who they are so that on days they aren’t sure of their worth, they have a document that speaks the truth.  Telling someone they have value will do wonders to establish or continue a friendship. As humans, we all want to know we are important, so to pen the words raises the respect in the relationship.
  • L-Love. This may seem sappy, but telling someone you love them should be a regular part of life.  Verbally telling them is preferred because face to face means looking into eyes and seeing the truth of the words reflected back.  However, written words last for generations.  They are permanent and do not float away on the wind as vocalizations do.  The most important thing is not to neglect to get the words out in one way or another.  Life is short, do not put it off.
  • I-interest. Sharing your own interests and expressing curiosity about the interests of others is where conversations begin.  No matter who is receiving your letter, be it a boss, a family member, a co-worker, or a partner, showing you care about what is important to them communicates you care about them.  We all like to talk to people about our passions.  Back in the day of pen pals, my entire letter was usually expressing things I enjoyed and asking my pal about what they liked in return.  It was a conversation on paper between countries and cultures, and it promoted friendship, understanding, and empathy.  Not a bad idea these days.
  • N– Nostalgia. I had a hard time coming up with an N-word.  I didn’t want to go with Nice.  Too plain, even though I think sharing kindness is a good idea.  I hope that most people already know that.  I also considered Negative, because I don’t mean this to sound like every letter should be Pollyanna with no hard conversations.  There are times where negative feelings need to be expressed and discussed openly.  Putting them down in writing makes them real and shines a light into some dark places.  That is a good thing, and when done carefully it can bring healing to relationships that have long been broken.  I finally settled on Nostalgia because I fully believe that reliving old memories is a kind of healing in itself.  Remembering a former time is sentimental and brings with it the desire for the happiness of that time.  Sharing those memories, with those who were also there, bonds you together with fondness.
  • G-Gratitude. Showing appreciation for all that you have…friendships, what you have been given, family, a job, the sun coming up, or any number of other possible moments of thankfulness is a sure way to find respect. Thank you notes are outdated.  I have heard a story of a young professional who wrote a thank you note to the assistant who scheduled his interview.  The boss saw it and hired the man on the spot.  Don’t underestimate the power of gratitude.  You may even find that the more grateful you are; the more reasons you find to be grateful.  Blend gratitude with grace and you get forgiveness.  Forgiveness shared brings healing, and once again, the letters penned in letters are sentiments for future generations to peruse and emulate.

Let them speak to you and for you.  Bring back letter writing within your realm of influence.  It is an exercise in good health, and it heals the heart as well.

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  1. Michelle, I love your recipe for a good letter. Letting people know what we’re thankful for about them can end up becoming the words we’re most thankful for writing or saying. You never know when the last letter or conversation with a person will happen.
    Blessings ~ Wendy

  2. Hi Michelle, words are powerful! Writing letters is a lost art. I wrote my wife weekly for two and a half years while we were dating. Every Thursday she would receive a letter in her mailbox. She told me it was the highlight of her evening.

    While I served in the Military, it was nice to receive mail; Especially overseas. We would gather around at mail call and wait anxiously. It felt disappointing when a letter wasn’t there for you, so the motivator was to make sure you wrote to receive.

    The biggest problem I see with words today can is spontaneous assault because of our technology. Words aren’t thought out or chosen carefully resulting in a lot of hurt feelings. There needs to be a reflection or cool down period before you hit send. Then there is the problem of emotion misinterpretation. One interrupts opposite of what the other is trying to convey.

    I also have to comment on how all of these great posts within this community come at a time when most needed. It never ceases to amaze me how magical it all feels here with all of these contributors.

  3. Hello Michelle,
    I love your idea of a letter being a gift of the heart. So true. The points you highlight about the benefits of sending/receiving letters stirred some nostalgic moments for me, as I recalled letters I’d sent to young believers and prison inmates, encouraging them in their faith. Also I remembered letters received from a sister, thanking me for my support and affirming me. Unfortunately, I also recall a letter I’d sent designed to hurt a loved one, which I now regret. As many Facebook members have discovered to their detriment, once you put words down in black and white, it is impossible to remove them.
    I do enjoy reading your writing. Thank you for sharing. I love the name of your blog and look forward to exploring its treasures.

  4. Great post Michelle. I agree with your sentiments. I still have a few love letters my husband wrote to me in 1982 during a long absence. It was a thrill to check the mailbox daily, waiting for the next one to arrive. With the introduction of the internet, letter writing is mostly
    a thing of the past. What a shame.

  5. Hi, Michelle. Thank you for this reminder of the power and healing of words – and letters nestled in the mailbox.

    My dad sent letters from the road to my mother, sister and me. He traveled during the week and those notes, cards and letters were his way of staying in touch. We’d look at the postmark and then circle that city/state on a map. We thought they were so far away from our home in Indianapolis.

    Mom would use them as a starting point for a geography lesson at dinner. I don’t know why, but once my sister asked if there were lions in Texas. The trusty World Book Encyclopedia straightened out her misconception.

    Knowing how much we appreciated these, I started the Absent Parent component at North House. Besides writing their child each week while in treatment, the women colored a picture, sent a copy of the same one to their child and asked that they color it and send back. We’d take a picture of mom holding the colored picture and then send that back with a letter.

    There is definitely healing in written communication.

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