You’ve heard me talk about the power of your written words. Words that can guide, remind, affirm, or thank. Words that tell stories from your life that are both your personal history and a living history of a time or place. Words that express what’s most important to you. Words that you can share now and that become part of your personal and family legacy.
I want to share three recent experiences that reinforced the emotional power of written words. I’ve always been a written-word saver, although I don’t think I realized back then how important some of those words would become. I was simply a saver.
Many of you will remember that, back in the day, letter writing was actually a means of communicating. There were no cell phones or computers. Long distance calls were expensive. Ideas like Skype and FaceTime were science fiction.
I knew there was a box in our basement that had old cards, invitations, and letters, and I finally dug them out. Well, there in the box was a handwritten letter my father had written to me in 1979 when my husband and I announced we were getting married. My father passed away 21 years ago, and that letter that had been tucked away was an unexpected gift. It’s hard to express what it was like not only seeing his handwriting and reading a letter that was addressed specifically to me, but ‘hearing’ his words of wisdom about marriage and his blessing for ours.
This past spring, my father-in-law, who lives in another state, had some serious medical issues. While my daughter was visiting him and helping him with some paperwork, she came upon a box of letters that he had written to my mother-in-law (who has now passed on) while he was in the military. She was not yet his wife, and he wrote to her every day while he was away. This was a treasure box. While many of the letters were about day-to-day happenings, they also included his views on things that were important to him. These letters give a snapshot of his life in real time are now part of his personal legacy.
These are two very different types of letters. One is a legacy letter written by a father to his daughter, at a special time in both of their lives. The others from my father-in-law were written as a means of communication, which rarely exists today. Either way, they’re all a glimpse into the thoughts and lives of those who wrote them.
The third experience is one that I will only briefly describe, and then I’ll encourage you to watch the video yourself. The son who created this video was moved by the words his father had written to him when he was born and which he came upon tucked away in a book many years later. This video brought tears to my eyes, literally. When you watch it, you’ll see for yourself the power of the written word, even a short poem.
Please post your comments and let me know your thoughts. Do you have letters that you’ve discovered or that you cherish?
Remember to register for A Way with Words: Express Yourself and get the Early Bird rate.
Here’s to the power of your words . . .
I love that there’s a day in the year that’s dedicated to showing love and appreciation for moms. In my mom opinion, of course one day isn’t really enough. Moms know that most of the year it’s not about us, so we take that day and bask in its me-ness.
This year, my daughter (who just turned 29) decided that one day wasn’t enough to express how much she loves and appreciates me and what she has learned from me over the years. Anyone who has ever received a card from her knows that no matter what’s printed on the card, she always adds her own special message. A simple signature is not enough.
On April 10, exactly one month before Mother’s Day, my daughter and I were together in NJ visiting my mother and sister. That morning she could barely contain her excitement when she handed me a Mother’s Day card and said Happy Mother’s Month. Happy Mother’s Month? The card had a long and beautiful message printed on it that expressed just what she wanted to say . . . almost. She added her own words of love, as always.
Then she shared the rest of her awesome Happy Mother’s Month gift! She handed me 30 individual note cards, each one with a message that expressed gratitude, love, a special memory, a lesson learned, or an impact I made on her. Each envelope was dated in sequence, and for an entire month I start each day with a new message.
On May 10 – Mother’s Day – I’ll read the grand finale and then re-read the entire bundle. When I put them all together, they’ll make one dynamite ‘Letter from a Lifetime’ . . . written one note at a time . . . to be cherished always. I’m one happy mom.
P.S. – I kind of like the month idea. Everything else seems to have a whole month, so why not Happy Mother’s Month. What do you think?
I hope that the new year is off to a great start and that 2015 is filled with good health and much joy. I want to share two stories . . . one which warmed my heart and one which broke my heart. One that was just in time and one that was a little too late. The things is, we never know.
About a year ago, as the ‘holiday season’ was getting into full swing, a woman asked me to help her write a message to her father. He was about to turn 95, and her plan was to share it with him as a Christmas gift. Barb (not her real name) wanted to share some special memories with her dad and let him know why those particular times they spent together were so special to her. She knew which stories she wanted to include, but she was struggling with how to express what she really wanted to say to her dad.
In this case, Barb was ‘passing it up’ instead of ‘passing it down’. Since what goes up must come down, this ‘letter’ to her dad would ultimately become part of her family’s legacy.
Barb and I worked together to express her ‘words from the heart’, which she combined with special photos and then created a beautiful card. Although Barb wanted to wait until Christmas, I was concerned that – given her father’s age and failing health – she might wait too long and then painfully regret that she didn’t have the opportunity to share her message with him.
I’m happy to say that Barb did visit with her dad last Christmas and not only delivered her beautiful gift in person but also sat with him and read it to him. He passed away less than two months later, and sharing her message with her dad was priceless. She invited me to meet for coffee so she could express her thanks, show me a copy of what she presented to him, and tell me about her experience in sharing it with her dad. It was heartwarming to know how special that was for them and that I had been a part of it.
My second story has a different ending . . . not one that was just in time, but one that was a little too late. Unlike Barb’s heartwarming story, this one was heartbreaking.
This is the story of a young woman whose brother was terminally ill with cancer. Susan’s (not her real name) brother was in his 30s. He was not married and had no children, and one day, from his hospital bed, he shared that he didn’t know what his legacy would be. What would he be leaving behind and to whom? Susan called to discuss how we could help him express whatever message he wanted to leave, perhaps values, life lessons, or profound love and gratitude for people in his much-too-short life.
We came up with a plan. Part of it was for me to meet with him and help him craft his ‘words from the heart’. The other part of the plan was for me to meet with Susan and Susan’s parents and help them write a message to their brother and son, sharing how he had impacted their lives and the many other people whose lives he had touched. By writing his own message and hearing his sister’s and parents’ messages, Susan’s brother would know that he was indeed leaving a legacy. They would share each other’s letters during what surely would be an emotional but powerfully meaningful time together.
It was all arranged, and I felt privileged to give them this opportunity. Sadly, on the very day that I was to meet with each of them, Susan’s brother began running a fever and our time together was postponed. A few weeks later, he passed away. It was heartbreaking that they never had the opportunity to share their messages.
Just in time . . . a little too late. The thing is, we just never know. My goal is to give you opportunities to set aside the time. The rest is up to you.
Today, I want to share a poem with you. This poem ‘speaks’ to me every time I read it, and I hope it gives you food for thought, too.
The Strangers in the Box*
Author: Pam Harazim
Come, look with me inside this drawer
In this box I’ve often seen
At the pictures, black and white
Faces proud, still and serene.
I wish I knew the people
These strangers in the box
Their names and all their memoriese socks
I wonder what their lives were like,
How did they spend their days?
What about their special times?
I’ll never know their ways.
If only someone would have taken time,
To tell who, what, and when,
Those faces of my heritage
Would come to life again.
Could this become of the fate
Of the picture we take today?
The face and the memories
Someday to be tossed away.
Make time to save your pictures
Seize the opportunity when it knocks
Or someday you and yours could be
The strangers in the box.
Imagine if the people in those photos had taken the time to write about their lives, what they learned, what they stood for, what their hopes and blessings for future generations were. It would be a gift to you beyond measure, wouldn’t it?
Well, you could someday become a stranger in a box or a phone or a computer, but you have the opportunity to express your values, lessons learned, hopes, blessings, and what’s most important to you – before it’s too late. You have the opportunity to create that priceless gift beyond measure – for those alive today and for future generations not yet born.
If you live in, will be in, or have a family member of friends who lives in the Atlanta area, please join me or encourage them to join me on Saturday, September 13, for the next ‘Words of Your Heart’ Legacy Letter Workshop. Don’t wait for ‘someday’.
* © 1997 by Pamela A. Harazim. All Rights Reserved.
May be used in unchanged form for non-commercial purposes if accompanied by this copyright message.
No doubt you’re familiar with the line from The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy says, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.” If you’re like me (and I’m pretty confident that I am not alone in this), then you could easily substitute the words “Photos and videos and slides, oh my.”
We’ve got boxes and packets of photos that predate the digital era. Maybe you or someone in your family has done some genealogical research. These days, we add to that hundreds if not thousands of photos on our phones, on our computers, and stored on other devices. Some photos have captions, some don’t. Some of the vintage photos have, if you’re lucky, a date on the back and possibly the names of the people in the photo. There might be letters or documents or cards, plus mementos or even heirlooms.
It’s likely that all of these things are scattered throughout your home or even in another family member’s home. Some are in your basement or your attic. Some are in boxes, in a bank safe box, in a cabinet or drawer. Some might be in a ‘someday I’m going to put this all in a scrapbook’ pile or box.
Okay, now your mind is going, and you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. Now you’re really thinking, “Photos and videos and slides, oh my!” Take a deep breath. Let’s step back and break this down into steps.
The first step is to take an inventory. What do you have and where is it? Aaahhh, now don’t you feel better. You’re thinking, “I can do that.” Yes, you can do that. You can take that first step, before worrying about organizing, prioritizing, and labeling, oh my . . . and here’s a great tool to help you do it. It’s the Resource Assessment Form, and you can download it right now. It’s a gift from me to you.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of your legacy inventory.
TIP #1: Commit to setting aside a couple of hours to complete your inventory using the Resource Assessment Form. Make a note on the form if you need to ask another family member where certain documents, items, family trees, etc. are?
TIP #2: As you inventory, begin to store all of your ‘legacy’ resources in one area. There are archival boxes and storage items available, but for now you can use large plastic bins to gather photos, documents, videos, slides, awards, etc. While not ideal for long-term storage, for now the goal is to inventory and to make them more accessible.
TIP #3: Resist the temptation to start organizing things or to start looking through all the photos, letters, cards, etc.
TIP #4: When possible, keep bins and other storage containers off the floor or a low shelf, in the event of flooding.
Until next time, happy inventory-ing.
Last week I met a guy in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. He was passing the time reading a book, patiently waiting for his wife’s appointment to be through. I noticed that he had just a few pages left, and I made a comment something like, “It looks like you’re going to finish that book just in time.” He smiled and nodded, and that was that . . . until his wife came out. That’s when he showed me one of the photos on the back cover of the book. It was a picture of his wife 60 or 70 years ago as a beautiful young woman. The obvious question was, “Wow. Why is your wife’s picture on the back of that book?” Here’s the answer.
The book he was reading was a 500-page collection (yes, 500 pages) of stories that he had written and photos he had collected along his life’s journey, beginning when he was in high school. His son had lovingly compiled those stories and photos and created a treasure for their family. After I oogled over it for a few minutes, I let him know that he was in an extreme minority of those who write about their experiences in the present. It’s more typical to capture our stories or those of loved ones looking back on the journey.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, mind you. In fact, there’s a lot of wisdom and reflection that can be shared that way, and there are family links that can be developed between generations. The issue is not whether they were captured in the present or by looking back. The real issue is that many of us don’t take the time to capture the journey at all, and then we experience the regret that goes along with that. This man had given his family a gift beyond measure.
Let me point out that this book was not his life story. It was a collection of stories of his life. This is a distinction that I make often, and if you’ve ever heard me speak, participated in one of my workshops, or even just chatted with me then you’ve heard me say that. When you think that way, then the idea of capturing the stories of your life and sharing the life lessons learned changes. When you think that way, you can get started today, even this minute, one story at a time.
Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Avoid thinking chronologically. Think of the stories of your life, or the stories of your parents’ or grandparents’ lives, as experiences. They don’ have to be in any particular order. You don’t have to capture all the childhood memories before moving onto the teen years. Think in terms of themes, such as turning points, career choices, travel experiences, home town experiences, places you’ve lived, starting a family, a move to a new place.
2. Carry a small note pad or journal with you or use a note pad app on your phone. Every time you think of a story, a memory, an experience, or a question you want to ask a parent, write the topic in the note pad. You’ll be ready at a moment’s notice with an endless list of stories or questions when you decide to sit down and write or record a story . . . one story at time. Think of it as an ongoing process versus a monumental project.
3. It’s your story in your words. Capturing your stories is not about literary genius. It’s about capturing the story. Think of each story as just two pages . . . or even less. For those who say to me, “I can’t write,” my response is that if you can speak you can write.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing tools and ideas to help you collect and preserve the stories, memories, wisdom, and heartfelt messages that will become part of your own family’s ‘treasure chest’. I look forward to hearing about how they help you get from ‘someday’ to ‘this day’.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. When someone passes away, it’s common for loved ones to present eulogies at the funeral or memorial service. We share with all the people there how wonderful that person was, how much she meant to us, what we admired most, what he taught us, etc. We pay our respects and honor – some would say celebrate – that person’s life.
Why do we do that? Why do we wait? Why do we say all those wonderful things at a time when the one person who should hear it is the one person who doesn’t?
I’ve looked up several definitions of the word eulogy, and they all say more or less the same thing: a speech or piece of writing praising a person or thing, especially a person who hasrecentlydied; high praise or commendation. I didn’t find anything that said it was ‘only’ for a person who has recently died.
So, why do we wait? Why not tell that person now? Try this powerful exercise. Think of one person you love, care about, admire, or appreciate. Close your eyes and think about what you would say if you were writing that person’s eulogy. I know that sounds a little strange, but stick with me. Next take pen to paper and write down the words of the eulogy, only write it in the present tense…what she means (instead of meant) to you, what you admire (instead of admired) most, etc. This “living eulogy” becomes the basis of a beautiful Legacy Letter, an affirmation of someone’s life meant to be shared with that person while she or he is still living. It can be one of the most meaningful gifts you can give.
Please share your thoughts and experiences with this powerful exercise.
On a recent visit with my mother, I was looking through some of her photos. One of the photos was from a vacation our family took to celebrate my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, long before my siblings and I were married and had children. Aside from bringing back the memory of that vacation, the photo struck me in a humorous way. My mother had a look on her face that said “Whoa is me.” I chuckled and thought to myself “If I had to raise the four of us, I’d probably look like that, too.” (Believe me, there are some stories there!)
During a recent visit from my 23-year-old son (now 24), I showed him the picture of “Grandma” and shared with him why it made me chuckle. It made him chuckle, too, since he knows my siblings. They’re his aunt and uncles, and he’s heard some of those stories. It wasn’t really the look on my mother’s face that struck him, though. You see, when this photo was taken, my mother was in her mid-40s. She was youthful looking, had shoulder length blond hair, and was wearing a swimsuit. Today, she is 87, with gray hair, wrinkles, and less than ideal posture. My son looked at that picture and said, “Wow, I never thought of Grandma like that.”
Exactly! That moment reconfirmed how important it is to capture the stories of our lives…before it’s too late. It not only becomes part of the family history and legacy. It also changes the lens through which we see a person – now and when they are no longer physically with us. When I meet a person, I know that she/he has been on a journey called life, full of stories and experiences. I know that an “old” person, for instance, had a childhood, an adolescence, perhaps a marriage and children, a career, a cause about which they were passionate, adventures, joys, challenges and tragedies – and that she/he has stories, values and wisdom to share. They are treasures to be captured, preserved and shared.
Have you discovered a wonderful story or valuable life lesson from someone you know that made you say…”Wow, I never knew that about him/her”? Please share it below.
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Welcome to the Capture the Journey blog, where I’ll be sharing inspiration, ideas, tips and resources to get you started or keep you going. Please share your comments and let me know the ways you’re capturing the journeys of your loved ones.
Where’s Ruthanne at upcoming events…
Introduction to Guided Autobiography: Writing Stories of Your Life . . . One Story at a Time
June 15, June 24, July 18, July 24