The Power of Handwritten Notes

by Melannie Svoboda SND on September 9, 2019

When Justin Smith was 30 years old a few years back, he lived only four blocks from his father in a small town in Eastern North Carolina. He saw his dad at least once a week. Yet several times a year he received a handwritten note from his father, Steve, as he had for most of his adult life, offering support and encouragement.

In one note Steve Smith wrote, “I write this letter to you as a father full of pride in his son and his accomplishments.” Another time he wrote, “The next 9-10 months will be challenging for you…. I have no doubt you will continue to make significant contributions to make it a better world.” Justin Smith eventually became a TV reporter.

Steve Smith explained why he mails handwritten notes to his son. “I’m a believer that handwritten notes are kind of a lost art in this day of social media. We need to keep it alive. It sends a message to the receiver and to the writer that you stopped what you were doing and totally focused on that person for a few minutes.”

John Drescher, one of my former students, wrote about the Smiths for the Raleigh News and Observer. John, who now works at the Washington Post, is also a firm believer in handwritten notes. He has a thick folder full of letters from his dad which started when Drescher was in college and continued for over two decades. When Drescher was in his 20s, his father often gave him career advice. When he was in his 30s with three small daughters, his father often wrote glowingly about his granddaughters.

Drescher’s dad was “old school,” often “formal and self-conscious about expressing his emotions to his children. But in his letters he was warm and effusive, revealing another side.” He sometimes closed his letters with, “Thank you for being our son.” He always signed them, “Love, Dad.” Drescher’s dad is gone now but he says, “As I re-read those old letters in his slanted, jagged handwriting, the years roll past page by page. I can hear his voice, supportive and reassuring, as if he were in the room with me.”

I too believe in the power of handwritten notes. I saved a couple of notes from both of my parents just so I could see their familiar handwriting and “hear” their voices. I also have a few letters from my brother John and sister Mary Ann, letters even more precious now that both of them are gone. I also have one cherished note from my Grandma Svoboda—a birthday wish for me when I was a little girl. In her beautiful penmanship, it says simply, “Dear Doly, I vish you vary hapy birthday. Love Grandma.” The misspelled words (Dolly, wish, very, happy) remind me that, when she entered this country at age 15, my grandma knew no English. Czech was her native language. What courage she had to start a new life in this new country! (I hope I carry some of that courage in my DNA!)

What about you? Do you think handwritten letters are a lost art? Do you have any handwritten letters that you treasure? Do you ever send handwritten letters to anyone?

Here’s a song entitled “Letter from Heaven” by Tim Shetler. He wrote this shortly after his mother passed away. For me the song captures what it feels like when we lose a loved one. Often we long for some communication from our dear ones from beyond the grave…and sometimes they do send us messages…

I invite you to write a brief comment below, sharing your ideas and experiences with handwritten letters. All of us would enjoy hearing from you!

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Pat September 9, 2019 at 4:57 am

My mother’s recipes are like little handwritten notes. Gathering together with family and sharing one of those special treats is almost like having her present with us, very similar to celebrating the Eucharist, while we can’t see Jesus, we share in His gift of Himself making Him present to us. Funny how we are talk about handwritten notes and responding through technology!

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R C Salinas September 9, 2019 at 5:35 am

My first “God” encounter was in my dad’s closet three years after
his death at age 50. Not a handwritten note but a scripture passage on
the calendar for December 66 when he died; from Ps 2,” You are my
son, this day I have begotten you.” Then and now I have never forgotten
the impact of those words and what they led to. Many times I would say
that in 26 years I had never heard something tender from him. But what those words did and coming from his closet has been a lifetime
gift. Thank you Sister Melanie for this and so much else.

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Kathleen Magiera September 9, 2019 at 6:04 am

I love handwritten notes and cards! There is something personal and tangible about receiving them. My husband will tuck a card in my suitcase when I travel. It is always a joy to find it as I unpack.

God bless.

Kathleen

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Pete September 9, 2019 at 6:19 am

I have a box full of letters that were saved by me when my uncle passed. The box contains every letter he wrote while he was in the Army during WWII and sent to his mom, my grandmother. A treasure. Also saved were a couple of letters my mom wrote to my wife and I just months before she passed. I make it a point to include a handwritten note in every Christmas Card sent out (42). Thank you notes for gifts are handwritten. Technology is taking over but there is nothing like a handwritten note. It could only be a line or two, but heartfelt just the same. Old fashioned I remain.

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Jim September 9, 2019 at 6:55 am

At age 8 on the day of my first communion, May 11, 1957, I received a handwritten note from my parents. ‘When we are gone and long apart whisper our names to the Sacred Heart” is how the note ends. Daily I have been whispering their names for decades.

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Kathy September 9, 2019 at 7:10 am

thanks again, Sr. Melannie, for a wonderful reflection.

I treasure handwritten notes. I have a few I’ve saved from my grandparents who lived in Florida when I was young. We didn’t have skype and such things back in the 60’s but we had letters. I looked forward to these notes I’d receive about once a month.

My own children receive notes from me now and then, not as often as I’d like, but maybe this will spur me to do so more often! Also, I have a 6-month old grandson now, so I must start sending letters to him as well.

The song today – I’m in tears. My father just passed 2 1/2 months ago, and the words were very meaningful. It is his birthday tomorrow, I think I will share the song with my family.

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Mary Ries September 9, 2019 at 7:21 am

I too am a letter writer. I was in college in the late 70’s, early 80’s and actually had a couple of boyfriends- who lived in town- but still wrote me letters. One even wrote me a love poem in iambic pentameter! I can’t even remember exactly what that is, but think that’s how Shakespeare wrote! I still LOVE to send cards and even an occasional letter to a friend who lives out of town.

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Kathy September 9, 2019 at 12:12 pm

Thanks, Mary, as a recipient of your cards, I appreciate them!

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Jean September 9, 2019 at 8:47 am

Good Morning Sister Melannie,
Oh what memories this brings.
I have letters from my dad to my mom during WWII.
Such a time of hope and prayers…and worries.
I have cards and notes from my parents that are my treasures.
Sending cards and notes are my thing as the personal touch is so vital.
Thank you for another grand start to a rainy week.

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Char September 9, 2019 at 8:47 am

Dearest Sr
I treasure one of my last birthday cards sent by my beloved Madre, I was away and she sent me the sweetest Valentine card. This past June was the 50th anniversary of her passing, I was only 20.
Also have most of the letters from my then boyfriend in the Air Force from 1968-1972, he’s my husband of almost 48 years. We have 3 children and our oldest along with her husband and 2 friends are on the Camino de Santiago walk!
Blessings
Char

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Mary F September 9, 2019 at 9:10 am

Dearest Sister,
I have a treasure box full of letters from and to my husband as he served in Vietnam. He saved all of his from family members and I have all that he sent to me. He had a true gift of writing the most romantic and moving sentiments to all, but especially to me. He continued this by always posting huge notes on our refrigerator to our children and to me for special occasions. Now that he has been gone for 15 years, those memories linger for us all and we realize the unusual blessing it was. I think I will pull a few of those sweet letters out today to refresh my heart of how loved I was. Thank you, Sister for reminding me.
Have a very sweet memory of having lunch with you at my sister, Loretta’s home in St Petersburg.
God Bless

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Joan September 9, 2019 at 9:19 am

Sister Melanie,
I saw the importance of letters back in the 1950’s when I was a small child living with my grandmother [my Mom died during the polio epidemic]. My Aunt had entered the convent and sent Gram a letter every week, and Gram responded to each letter and continued to do so into her 80’s. Gram taught me and my sisters to write thank you notes. As I grew I wrote letters to my pen-pal in Vermont and have done so for 55 years! I wrote to my husband to be when he was in the service. As family historian I have letters written in Swedish to my Grandpa Rockman, and letters in Belgian to my Great-Grandparents Descourouez. I can’t read them, but I treasure the love they represent. Thank you so much for this meditation today.

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Susan September 9, 2019 at 9:38 am

I have letters from my grandparents because they moved to Florida during the winter when I was 7 years old. Long distant phone calls were expensive then, so letters is how we communicated. I still treasure those letters and am worried that my grandchildren will have nothing to treasure when I am gone. Now we FACETIME and send text messages, none of that is saved to see later. I feel real special that my grandparents took the time to write to me because I was one of 21 grandchildren!!!

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Janet Ashe September 9, 2019 at 9:42 am

Dear Sister Melanie, thank you so much for your words of wisdom. I sat down immediately and wrote a card to my daughter who is struggling with a job change that is not going as planned. I hope the letter will support her when I cannot be there.

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John Hopkins September 9, 2019 at 9:44 am

Good morning, all!

A handwritten note is a slender parcel of peace. A keepsake. Something so very human. Love them and send them. May they never stop!

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Thomas DeFreitas September 10, 2019 at 5:03 am

John, that’s an awesome way of phrasing it. “A slender parcel of peace”! Yes!

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Kathryn Lamont September 9, 2019 at 9:53 am

How special and lovely to read the memories posted here.
When I was let go from my job of 25 years, my Aunt Helen wrote me a note in a card with a young red-headed girl on the cover. She said it reminded her of me. Her words were so gracious and supportive and I so appreciated receiving this note when I was so down hearted. I have kept it these 20+ years and framed the card as a reminder of her kindness. I hope I can do the same for someone else, and write exactly the right words of comfort.

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Sr Susan M Reineck September 9, 2019 at 10:00 am

My father served in WWII. My mother was expecting me at this time.
My father survived the Normandy invasion and happily came home to his young wife and little girl. Growing up, I was always curious and one day in an alcove off my bedroom I found a box that was filled with all the letters my mother had saved from my father who had written her throughout his years of service. After my mother died, I shared them with the grandchildren (young adults at the time). They had never known their grandfather, but these letters were a happy connection for them.
My father’s youngest brother, was killed in the same war. Uncle Eugene
was my godfather by proxy. Years later, my aunt gave me the final letter
Uncle Eugene had written to his mother shortly before he was killed. I certainly treasure this letter as well as those written by my father. To this day I continue to be a card sender and always enclose a note. Have a blessed day!

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Michelle Rabb September 9, 2019 at 10:05 am

Dearesr Sr. Melannie: You made my day! The art of handwritten notes and letters is a thing of the past if WE don’t keep it alive. I have kept a journal for that very reason. Someday my kiddos will read and know me even better. I have letters from my parents and very beautiful wavy, lacy handwritten recipes from my Grammy! Treasures! To continue the tradition, I always write my
children and grandchildren for each birthday. I also frequently write thank you notes as it is so important to me personally. Thank you so much for your lovely post. Michelle.

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Suzanne September 9, 2019 at 10:20 am

Good morning Melannie,

Yes, I keep the handwritten note alive and the post office in business! I enjoy creating my own cards and send at least 25 notes for various occasions each month. I do email, but there is nothing better than sending or receiving an old-fashioned handwritten note.

I also have some very special handwritten messages I’ve saved over the years – one from my father, who was in the service, to my mother when I was born. A treasure!

Blessings and thank you for the reminder to keep this art alive!

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Vicki September 9, 2019 at 10:37 am

As always, I enjoy your message. Consider yourself hugged. I remember letters written to us by one of my grandmothers. They were difficult to read as spelling was an issue, but we read them and tried to fill in the blank. I came across one of her letters recently and my heart melted with great memories of my relationship with her and with gratitude that she took time to communicate with us.
This is great encouragement. I do treasure the scribbles/love notes from my very young grandkids. I need to send treasures back to them.
Thank you

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Anne K September 9, 2019 at 11:40 am

I still like to send cards especially to my grandchildren in college. I try to text them every Monday to let them know I love them and wish them a good week.

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Sr. Sue September 9, 2019 at 11:50 am

I could relate to what you said about the impact of a hand written letter. My mother and I would write to one another often when I was in nursing school and later when I had moved to the west coast. I kept her letters written to me by her during those difficult times in my life. When she died I was going through her things and I found that she had saved every letter I ever wrote her. I took the time to reread those letters and I added them to my pile. Now I could read what I wrote and read her response to me. My mother does check up on me from heaven every time we have a thunderstorm. When we were young and there was a thunderstorm my mother would sit us on her lap in an adarondack chair on the porch and tell us how good God was because he was putting nitrogen back into the garden. She did this so we would not be afraid of thunderstorms. It was only a year before her death that she told me how scared she was of thunderstorms but didn’t want us to be afraid. Now each time there is a thunderstorm I can hear my mother’s words of support.

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Kathy September 9, 2019 at 11:51 am

What an enjoyable message. I love to send notes and cards to people. It is a dying art form. I get so much pleasure out of picking the “perfect” card to send someone. I think of it as sending a smile to brighten someone’s day especially since most of my family and friends are far away.
Thank you!

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Sister Marietta Wethington September 9, 2019 at 11:57 am

Sister Melannie,
Thank you! This is wonderful. Stirred some good memories in my heart. Every Thursday I received a letter from my mother. When she died unexpectedly, my sisters and sister -in – law made sure I got a letter on Thursday. I don’t remember how long they kept that up. What I do remember is their thoughtfulness and love for me. There really is nothing like a handwritten note.
Blessings for you,
Marietta Wethington, OSU

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LJ September 9, 2019 at 2:45 pm

My family was cleaning out my brother’s house after his passing, and found tucked away in his papers, a letter from our dad, that had been written to his sister (our aunt) just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. My dad was a Navy chief, assigned to the USS Ward, a two-stacker patrolling the mouth of the harbor. They fired the first shot of the war, sinking an enemy sub, just outside the harbor mouth. It was fascinating to read about what he was doing, his thoughts on the potential of war, etc.; and yes, we could totally hear Dad’s voice, as we stopped what we were doing, and listened as another brother read it aloud. We’ve agreed to forward a copy to both the Pearl Harbor Memorial museum, and to the First Shot Club Memorial. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rp5NE9eV1CQ

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Rosemarie September 9, 2019 at 3:41 pm

I have all the letters my mother wrote me from the late 1970’s through the 1990’s. I recently put them in order in plastic sleeves in a binder. What a treasure they are for me now. I smile and cry when I read them. She talked about the weather in every letter which transports me back to the day she sat down to write to me. In the early 80’s she encouraged me relentlessly to go back to church. Her encouraging words brought me back to the church. The written word is powerful. I need to follow the example my loving mother Viola set for me. Thank you for the reminder.

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Therese September 9, 2019 at 4:08 pm

Dear Melanie, today is the 9th anniversary of my husbands death and he kept a daily log of the days events. But also would leave me dear little affectionate notes left where I would find them . I left them where I found them so I can find them over and over again. Peace of Christ be your

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Carol September 9, 2019 at 4:14 pm

When I was in grammar school in the 50’s we had autograph books for friends and family to write in. I recently found mine and discovered notes and poems from my grandparents and aunts and uncles who are no longer living. What a treasure to read their messages to me. The written word is powerful and a special gift .

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Sister Miriam Ann September 9, 2019 at 6:39 pm

When I entered the convent I sent hand made cards to my parents and they saved them in a desk drawer. The drawer was so full and could hardly close the door. So one day I gathered some of the more general ones, put them in new envelopes and remailed them. It took them several months to realized what I did and we laughed and laughed. Also, my dad sent me a picture of the pope and said if I could name the person I won myself a free airplane ticket to come back home and visit. It was written in his own horrible penmanship, which we all know, and showed his sense of humor, which is priceless. Thanks for the memories Sister .

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JoAnne C Somerville September 9, 2019 at 7:22 pm

I have a small suitcase filled with letters I received over the years when there was no social media and long distance telephone calls were timed and expensive. I take them out every once in a while and it’s almost like visiting loved ones. I especially cherish the ones from my Mom and sister, Ruthie. We lost Mom in 1978 and Ruthie, 5 years ago. Thanks, Melannie, for”Sunflower Seeds.” I look forward to it every Monday.

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Thomas DeFreitas September 10, 2019 at 5:01 am

Sr. Melannie and everyone, hello!

My friend Elena often sends me handmade birthday cards (or Christmas cards), with of course a handwritten note inside. For a while, we were trading handwritten “postcard poems” and mammoth snail-mail letters. It’s something of a throwback, but yes, we cherish those letters that took effort and time. I enjoy the instantaneous communication that the internet and e-mail provide, but there’s something refreshingly timeless about a tangible, palpable missive!

Peace and light, all. Have a good week!

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Beverly September 10, 2019 at 5:04 pm

It sends a message to the receiver and to the writer that you stopped what you were doing and totally focused on that person for a few minutes.”

I have always considered myself a terrible letter writer. What I write never seems to express what I feel. But after reading this one line above…I am convinced that I should write letters anyways. Thanks for the inspiration!

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Jean Canatsey September 10, 2019 at 10:19 pm

Oh my, where do I begin? The first letter of consequence that I remember writing was to my father in 1971 when he was dying of cancer at the age of 56. I didn’t think I could verbalize my feelings so I put pen to paper. We lived in the country and I remember telling him that I remembered reading that “a child who has walked in the woods with his grandfather has seen the face of God.” My mother returned that letter to me after his death and I cherish it to this day. Over the years I have saved many cards and letters from now deceased relatives, old friends and my children. I periodically reread them.
I have a handwritten letter of introduction that an A & P manager in Indianapolis, IN, wrote in 1934 recommending my Dad for a managerial position. (He got the job!) I also treasure my mother’s autograph book from the mid 1920’s when she was confined to Riley Hospital for Children. There are many notes from the nurses who cared for her.
I send a lot of greeting cards and always add a personal note to them. I am also a prolific letter writer and correspond with well over a dozen inmates. They never cease to tell me the value of a letter.
The song “Send Me a Letter From Heaven” came at just the right time for our family. Our oldest grandson took his life on September 7, 2013, leaving behind a wife and a six year old son. I forwarded the song to his widow.
Thank you, Sr. Melannie, for always starting my Mondays off on a high note!

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Eileen September 11, 2019 at 7:23 am

The power of handwritten notes or sending a card speaks volumes. I make hundreds of cards a year and send many of them. The ones I send to frequently remark about how much they appreciated getting real mail and display their cards for a long time. Yes, it costs to make and mail but the resulting pleasure is priceless. I too, have handwritten recipes from my mother and notes from my parents which I treasure. I may get them out today and reread them. Thanks

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Joni Dugan September 11, 2019 at 2:21 pm

Melannie, Thank you so much. How very true — when I was in Chardon about a month ago, I purposely took about 3 boxes of “stuff” that belonged to my sister and me and my goal was go through those 3 boxes. What a delight (and a job) but we laughed and laughed and just so enjoyed at all the memories that those letters brought forth. Letters from S.M. Frank to my Mom and a note to my gradeschool girlfriend after my sister left to enter ND. That was a hoot! Letters from SND’s and other friends and relatives on my Mom and Dad’s death and so on and on and on. (the boxes almost got emptied)
Question: my handwriting is not as great as it used to be (I’m not sure it ever was due to all those years of note-taking in school) but at any rate what I try to do is to send a bd card in US mail with a note or a typewritten printed out note. So much harder to do than to get on facebook and click Happy Birthday —-. Someone commented that a handwritten note shows that you really appreciate the person to take time out to write a personal note. So thanks so much for re-iterating that!
So your post was awesome.
P.S. One more reason for kids to learn cursive! Take care kiddo!

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