Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Things left unsaid...the power of writing.

"What is fundamental in relationships is that we take them for granted. We don't say we care about someone. 'You really made a difference for me,' ...Conveying appreciation or acceptance or respect — we take it for granted. It's not said."

-Karen Krefman, a marriage and family therapist with the nonprofit Family Institute at Northwestern University

Until now.

I read a very interesting article yesterday about a website called "The Things You Would Have Said," The website was launched earlier this year by Jackie Hooper, a legal assistant in Portland, Oregon, and it is a forum for your thoughts. What I like about it is that it's less about confessions or unburdening yourself and more about those nagging feelings about what you wanted to say but didn't.

On her website, Hooper posts one letter a day. She estimates she's received about 1,300 letters thus far. And within those, about 70% are written to those who have died, and just under half are to fathers.

I was intrigued as I read many of the letters. Some are funny, many are incredibly sad, and then there are those that pull at your heart-strings for a multitude of reasons.

I've known this for a very long time. Writing can be a powerful and healing tool for the human soul. Putting my thoughts to paper, from an early age, has served me well in my life. Even as far back as when I was 10 years old, I began keeping a personal diary (or journal of sorts). I enjoy pulling out those old diaries and reading the random musings of the pre-teen and teenage girl I once was. I find myself laughing out loud when I read some of my entries, and then at times, sobbing.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and just give that younger version of me a great, big, bear hug and tell her that all will be okay. To reassure her that life is going to work itself out and you will find peace, joy and happiness in your journey. To remember to stay on the straight and narrow...listen and heed the advice your parents are giving you because seriously...they really do know best. And lastly, quit worrying so much about boys and focus on your education!! Oh, oh and yes, one REALLY big piece of advice I would want to give her...savor and appreciate every moment of that junior prom of yours because that handsome sophomore you took as your date....he's going to be your husband someday!! :-)

In essence, while reading my own personal journal entries, I am able to see the personal and spiritual growth that has occurred in my own heart and soul over the years. It is therapeutic in every sense.

In graduate school, while working on my Master's degree in Educational Leadership, the topic for my thesis focused on the importance of writing across the curriculum in our schools...particularly in the elementary classroom. Because I am passionate about writing and the connective nature it has on a child's learning, while writing this thesis, I was able to delve into a thoughtful and provocative study of why writing matters to students of all backgrounds, but also how it can directly relate to one's overall health and well-being.

You might find this article interesting on the topic of how research has proven that writing can improve one's mental and physical health. For any of you teachers out there who may be reading this, I would encourage you to get a copy of this book and to read this report. both are powerful resources which stress and explain why teaching writing is so crucial for educating students in the 21st century.

And now, back to Jackie Hooper's website.

Here are just a sampling of some letters I pulled from her website, The Things You Would Have Said:


Every Word

Dear Faithie,

I never told you this but you were such a huge role model to me. I hung on to your every word. You teaching me how to draw in the fog on windows seemed like the coolest thing ever. And it was. Because you said it. You told me which songs were cool and which stars to like. I always thought you were so cool. After I moved, we never really talked, but I would hear stories about how great you were from my mom. And then one day, March 23rd actually, my grandmother called and told us you had died. You were on a bike trip with your friends and you got hit by a car. You were only 17. I’m so sorry.

Rachel, the 14 year old girl who is still often that 4, 5, and 6 year old you knew.

The Backyard Pool


Mommy is so sorry that I left the room and that daddy went down stairs for a few minutes. I am sorry that we stopped at the old house for a few minutes to go on that dumb vacation. I am so sorry that we didn’t keep hounding the pool company to get the fence in even though we weren’t living there. I am so sorry that you aren’t here with Olivia. She misses you so much. I am so sorry that I wasn’t a good enough mommy. I love you. My heart fills with joy to know that you are in heaven with my mommy and daddy. You have a new little sister, Lily, who has your smile. I love you. I wish we would have gotten to go riding on a horsey when you got bigger, I wish you would have been here to go to school with your twin Olivia, to go to Disney World. It’s so not fair. You are my heart. A part of me is forever gone.


Mommy, age 44

Make You Proud

Dear Michael,

It’s been more than two years since you and your sisters died. But don’t think for a second that you’ve been forgotten. I still think about you all the time. Sometimes I think I loved you more than your sisters, but then that doesn’t seem fair and I feel horribly guilty. All three of you were such incredible people. For some reason, though, whenever I think of you everything seems like it’s going to be okay. You gave unconditional love to so many people at school as well as in the rest of the community, and in my opinion that means your life was well lived. You’re remembered well, and even though you only lived to the 9th grade, rest assured that you affected more people than you can possibly comprehend.

There are still so many moments where all I want is a Michael hug, because that would make me feel so much less alone. But I know that you’d be so disappointed in who I am now… and for that, I’m sorry. I’ve lost myself, Michael, and I wish you were here to help remind me.

Aaron is in good hands, by the way. You two were like brothers, and I just want to make sure he’s okay. Maybe that will make up for how bad of a person I’ve become. You’d be so proud of him. Really, he’s the best. He, for one, is not letting you down.

I love you. You’ll always be not only in my heart, but in the heart of everyone who was blessed enough to know you. You and your sisters are missed. But in a way, your passing made everyone stronger. They say that only the good die young, and you all were the greatest. Maybe if I’m able to join you in heaven, one day, we can catch up. Until then, I’m going to try to make you proud.


Emily, Age 18

Exactly Like You


Dad says I look exactly like you. I wouldn’t know. You died when he was about my age and I’ve never seen a picture of you at Grandpa’s. Oh, how I wish I could have met you, even just once to see how you were like. If you’re reading this, I want you to know about me even if I’ll never be able to tell you in person, at least for a while. I’m starting my sophomore year in high school, and I’m a great student (I get all A’s). I love spending time with friends and family, and from time to time I think about you and wish I could meet the woman whose blood runs through my veins.

Gramps remarried and I love him Grams with all my heart, but I wish that you could be a part of my life. You would be so proud of me! I hope we can meet in heaven so you and I can make up for lost time. From what I hear, you and I are quite alike! I wish you could be here to help me and enlighten me with your wisdom. I could use it occasionally (okay, you’ve got me, more often than not).

We’ll see each other sometime soon.

I love you,

Aubrey, age 15


As I was reading these letters, I knew immediately who I would want to write a letter to... a former student of mine. A little girl that had the weight of the world on her shoulders each and every day she walked into my 2nd grade classroom....a little girl that no doubt left an indelible impression on my heart 7 years ago.

This is what I would want to say to that precious girl...

And there you have it my friends, things left unsaid between a teacher and her young student. Maybe you should write a letter, too....

“I never know what I think about something until I read what I've written on it.”

- William Faulkner, 1897-1962



  1. wow. Jennifer i sit here in tears reading these amazing words. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Thanks also for this yesterday; I promptly emailed (albeit email) my hubby the "thank you" message I had intended to send the day before but forgotten. And you had me in tears, too! What an amazing little child of God you got to teach.

  3. This is fantastic Jennifer and worth of being published. Congratulations. I'm pretty emotional with graduation this week of my second daugther and the end of this threw me over the edge..but a good cry and so worth it. The power of word is amazing. And you have a gift.



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