Written by: Val Brennan
A friend of mine once told me that he had started writing letters to his grandchildren once or twice a year soon after the first one was born. I thought it was a brilliant idea, as I had already begun to realize how difficult it can be to reconstruct special moments and memories after a certain amount of time goes by.
In these letters he shared observations about each grandchild, some family history, stories about his parents and his children, plus random thoughts and commentary on the big events of the current times. He would share them with his grandkids when they became adults… and what a treasure it was to receive those 49 letters spanning 16 years.
In fact, it was a treasure for all of his family and a few special friends who were lucky enough to read the letters after we lost him early in that 17th year.
Although the letters were intended for the grandchildren, they told a story about the man who had written them, as much as anything. I learned things I had never known and saw his soft side and humor clearly reflected in his writing. I’m certain his family will get them out from time to time and laugh and cry and thank him for taking the time to write it all down.
I thought of him today because I was reading a letter Hall of Fame LPGA golfer Annika Sörenstam has publicly written to her daughter. It was a very long letter that her daughter will gradually understand and appreciate as she grows up. It was beautifully written and intertwined stories of Annika’s own journey with the challenges she feels her daughter will face.
It occurred to me that it was yet another wonderful way to preserve your life stories. That’s when I thought of and revisited my friend’s letters.
There are endless ways to capture your stories and writing letters may well be one of the least intimidating. First of all, it doesn’t take very long to write a letter. Second, you don’t have to do anything with it immediately. You can write a series of letters over time and you can share them when you are ready or leave them for when you are gone.
Third, you don’t really have to worry about technique or finding your voice. Your voice comes quite naturally when you write a letter. And fourth, you can write them by hand, type them on a computer or dictate them to your smartphone, and of course you can add photos to your letters.
Here are two pieces of advice if you decide to write letters as a means of sharing your stories, thoughts, views, or wisdom.
1) Keep a backup copy in a safe place. Whether they are on your computer, in a notebook, part of a Footprint, on in your personal stationary, make sure there is a copy that is stored in a different building.
It’s not fun to think about, but servers and hard drives can fail, and homes are sometimes destroyed. I assure you that your letters will be priceless to someone, so take the extra step to make sure they aren’t lost.
2) Make sure that they are found if you happen to not be around when the time comes. Put a note in with your legal papers and your lock box, or at least two places where it will be found.
In your note, include the location of the originals and of the backup. You may also want to share the location with a loved one. Don’t put this off, you just never know.
If you keep thinking about writing a memoir, but can’t quite get started… maybe today is the day to sit down and write a letter.
Val Brennan writes for MemoirHelper.com, a website that offers tips and techniques for sharing life stories and more in a variety of ways. She is also the creator of MemoirWorkbook.com, an easy to use tool that helps individuals write and share their memoirs or autobiographies.