As they compete against modern technology, friends, and rigid schedules, many find their relationships with their grandchildren lack depth and meaning. Cell phones and the Internet provide crucial links, but all too frequently such forms of communication are rushed and superficial. Though the concept may seem out of date, one way to help bridge generational distance is by corresponding with a handwritten letter.
In 1922, philosopher and etiquette authority Emily Post included a section on the art of letter writing in her popular book on manners:
“. . . THE ART of general letter-writing in the present day is shrinking until the letter threatens to become a telegram, a telephone message, a post-card. It is the letter from the friend in this city to the friend in that, or from the traveling relative to the relative at home, that is gradually dwindling . . . The difference though, between letter-writers of the past and of the present, is that in other days they all tried to write, and to express themselves the very best they knew how—today people don’t care a bit whether they write well or ill.”
Some eighty years later, Post would surely be dismayed to find email and text messaging to be the norm. And, handwritten correspondence all but disregarded, the crisp feel and texture of paper and envelopes replaced by a myriad of technological devices.
A Lasting Testament
When I was a child, my paternal grandmother lived over two-hundred miles away. Yet she was determined to forge a bond with me. Through her regular correspondence, I not only learned about the frigid Idaho winters she and my grandfather endured in a little valley at the edge of the Snake River, but also of her hopes and dreams. As I grew, her letters never ceased. Even through the turbulence of teenage years, when I was wracked with doubt and lack of self-esteem, I knew she valued me. Assuring me of her confidence in my integrity and her belief in my abilities—and always signed, “Love, Gram”—her never preaching words of love, wisdom,and encouragement were among my most cherished possessions.
By the time my oldest children were grown, the messages came with less frequency. Grandma’s once flawlessly smooth handwriting became jagged. Arthritis gnarled her fingers. Her hands shook with effort. Knowing the difficulty she suffered as she wrote endeared her to me even more. The letters became a priceless line of communication. Stories of her and Grandfather’s triumphs over age and the elements as they endeavored to retain their independence, their farm, and their herd of horses, were a true and lasting testament to the strength of the human spirit.
Whether you live near or far from your grandchildren, if you want to enhance your relationships with them—or with your own children—there are several reasons to consider penning personal letters. A handwritten letter automatically tells someone they’re special. Not only is such correspondence rare, it immediately conveys an exceptional depth of devotion because of time and effort expended. In addition, the opportunity to carefully contemplate your words affords a level of communication that can build a sense of connection. A chance to articulate views, ideals, and feelings with clarity. A forum wherein to express genuine emotions.
Handwritten letters don’t have to be lengthy
Walt Whitman noted that, “The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity.” Focus on a plain and simple point in your letters. Give praise for accomplishments and good deeds. Provide feedback relating to a previous conversation that lets your grandchild know you’ve listened and understood their feelings and ideas. Relate a story that gives insight into your beliefs, as well as what you find good and wondrous in the world.
While it’s true technology provides the means to correspond easily and frequently, handwritten letters are authentic mementos of you. Tangible evidence of your love and loyalty. Written from your heart, the uplift of your words can brighten dark days. When offered in goodwill and without guile, your guidance can give much needed direction in troubled times. As you state your belief in your grandchild’s inherent talents and capabilities, your words provide needed assurance. As testaments of the value you place on your grandchild or child, they sow the seeds of miracles that will buoy your loved one through a lifetime.
My grandmother has passed on. But now, as a grandmother myself to four young granddaughters, I look forward to sharing the art of letter writing. I’m already giving priority to time spent at my desk, pen in hand, where I can contemplate and record things I want them to know. I want to help them recognize how remarkable they are. I want to relate life experiences, and what I’ve learned and have yet to learn. I want to share my hopes and dreams, as well as things I find inspiring—or just plain humorous. In doing so, I hope my granddaughters will be proud to come to know who I am and what I stand for through letters I will sign, “Love, Gram.”