December 2, 2014

Lessons from 102 Handwritten Letters.

102 handwritten letters
I have a cabinet full of cards and stationary—I have always loved expressing myself through the written word.

The act of putting pen to paper stimulates a part of the brain—one that is as comforting as a soft and plush sweater on a cold dreary day.

Earlier this year I had a desire to write and started dabbling in a few gratitude letters to my closest friends and family.

The turning point was writing a letter to my grandmother, pleading with her to move closer so she could have the support of family in her last chapter of life. I had visions of learning more of her famous recipes, spending holidays together and just having my kids get to know her better. I hoped that if I poured my heart into the words and offered to help, how could she say no?

My grandmother politely wrote back saying no. At first, my heart felt heavy and sad, yet I realized at least I had revealed my true feelings. I politely wrote back letting her know I understood and offered an open invitation.

I felt as if I were in the olden days communicating via written letter versus the phone, email or text.

After writing to my grandmother, I had an ongoing urge to keep writing—what other feelings would be uncovered?

I trusted my gut and decided to write over 100 letters. I set no parameters or expectations, simply began to use all the beautiful stationary and cards I had accumulated over the years.

I wrote as if these were my last words to each person, so I expressed fully from gratitude for the first 80ish letters and felt a sense of appreciation that embodied me fully. I felt liberated, I had finally told my family how much I love them, my favorite coach how much he touched my life.

Yet, there was something unsettling. I called one of my mentors and she gracefully reminded me that I had yet to write about the other emotions, the anger and grief that had been bottled up and neatly stored in the depths of my inner soul.

The last letters were not neatly presented on fine paper, they were sloppily written on scrap paper and a complete release of all the yucky emotions trapped. These letters were burned, not mailed.

Ah ha, the spectrum of emotions which we all encompass was revealed. Let us start with love.

Love (serenity, joy, ecstasy): Love has always been present in many forms. Many times we are blinded by our other emotions to see who truly loves us.

I personally realized the variety of adult figures I was surrounded by that formed who I am today. I truly know there is more than one way to deal with the things in front of us, yet I know if we choose love, the world opens up.

Tears overwhelmed me when I saw how many loved and still love me.

Submission (acceptance, trust, admiration): I may have a wild and crazy family—don’t we all? I am not special, we all have pain and suffering from our childhood. I realized that even though times were crazy, there were lessons, knowledge and perseverance.

My family is one of the most accepting families I have experienced. Even if someone gets divorced, we still consider them family. We are always there for each other, even if we are fighting along the way. That is life, part of the emotional spectrum.

I was in complete admiration for the life lessons I learned from my grandmother being strong and stern. Once I forgave all the hurtful comments of not being good enough or skinny enough, I saw that she taught me to roll up my sleeves and not be afraid to get dirty, figuratively and literally.

She never held back and at least there was never a question of what was on her mind, with that honesty comes an unsounding sense of trust.

Disapproval (pensiveness, sadness, grief): Towards the end of the letter writing journey, I was confused and sad. After writing letters to my ex-husband and brother, I cried for a good hour. I had always been putting on a happy face—seeing the good.

Yet, I had not allowed other emotions. I had not fully processed the pain of rejection in my marriage or the lack of childhood.

I had never allowed myself to be sad that at the age of five, when I decided not to be a burden to my single mom, to be her helper and my brother’s stable rock. I see now nobody asked that of me, I made the decision. I have been the caregiver all my life. And I was sad that I rarely allow anyone to care for me.My catch phrase is “I will take care of it.”

Hmm, the lesson here, it is okay to be sad, grieve and ask for help along the way as it is part of the process.

Aggressiveness (annoyance, anger, rage):  These emotions are the ones that we tend to store as we don’t want to upset anyone or express how we are truly feeling. I have told many a friend or client to write about these emotions and burn it forrelease. Yet, I had not done this exercise fully.

In 20ish letters, I was able to, in a not so nice way, express feelings about things that pissed me off in my life. The best release was to my first step-dad. He is and was a big jerk that made my life miserable on many occasions. I allowed myself not to see a positive side, he may have one, yet never revealed to me.  And that is finally acceptable.

Optimism (interest, anticipation, vigilance): The emotional spectrum circled with the realization, we have to go through the good, the bad and the ugly for true healing to occur. I am overjoyed with excitement for what the future will hold. I have confidence to allow all the emotions and possess the imprint to allow versus bottle up the negative thoughts.

“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy.
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
Much of your pain is self-chosen. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility.
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen.
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened His own sacred tears.” ~Kahil Gibran

We must feel pain to have the contrast of joy.


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Author: Kerry Elam

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: courtesy of author


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