July 29th, 2011 at 11:37 am
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Preserve the connection: save your parents’ handwritten letters

by Judy Kirkwood

Even though we are all accustomed to emailing and texting now, it’s not your parents’ typed words that will give you solace when they can no longer write because of cognitive or physical disabilities, or when they can no longer write because they are gone. With that said, save your parents’ handwritten letters.

Yesterday, I found a wooden box in my closet that was labeled “Pistachio Nuts”, but it turned out to contain a treasure trove of cards from mom and dad that I had saved. Most were birthday cards that included a note. For example, one card included: “It’s late and I can’t do that well with just two eyes–hope your package gets to you –sending it UPS. Should get to you Monday but wait til Wednesday to open it. A little suspense is fun, don’t you think? Love, Mom.”

That was the note on a card that was extra special because my dad had written 4 paragraphs on it as well. A rare treat! His note ended with “This is the best I can do with one eye,” which explains mom’s note, which comes after. (Dad had lost his sight due to glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.)

The handwriter’s voice

As mom’s health started failing, one of the minor losses was her ability to write. My sister would buy greeting cards and guide mom’s hand to write the words “Love, Mom” as she knew mom would want to continue her tradition of never missing our birthdays. That was great, but I missed my mother’s practiced Palmer method penmanship that had graced so many letters and cards to me.

I knew I needed to hang onto as much of my parents’ correspondence as I could because the first thing I did upon hearing my grandmother had died was race to find a few of her letters and cards I had saved. Her handwriting was much less polished. The shape of individual alphabet letters was more rough and random than mom’s penmanship, with misspellings. But in reading the words, which were conversationally written, I could hear grandma’s voice and it was a comfort.

I have many more letters to go through in which I can hear my parents speaking, not to me, but to each other. When we were cleaning out our parents’ house after dad died and mom was in the nursing home, we found a trunk that we had always been warned not to open because it was their private business.

We did open it.

It was full of their letters to each other during dad’s four years of service in the Air Force. But that’s another story.

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