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By Susan Hines-Brigger

The Power of Letters


Nothing New
E-mail: Friend or Foe?
Grab a Pen and Get Writing

Going through some papers the other day, I found a letter from my Aunt Ellie. The contents of the letter were insignificant, but the letter itself brought me to tears. My aunt had written it just months before she died of cancer.

For a lot of people, that letter wouldn’t mean much. For me, however, it represents a piece of someone I love and miss very much.

To be honest, I have every letter I have ever received from loved ones, friends, even acquaintances, stored in my hope chest. Each one represents a snapshot of my life—a goal realized, a painful memory, a lesson learned.

Nothing New

The practice of writing letters has been around for a long time. In fact, the Bible is filled with letters—to the Romans, the Corinthians, Timothy, among others.

Letters can be used to inform, scold, praise, entertain or endear. The U.S. bishops write letters to presidents, policymakers and others to help make the Church teachings and positions known. Individual bishops write letters, too, to their people to inform and encourage them. People write letters to members of Congress to weigh in on certain legislative issues. When a network announces it will be canceling a popular television program, what is often the first course of action? A letter-writing campaign.

Letters can also serve as lifelines for loved ones separated by distance, war, employment and many other circumstances. Or they can help bridge a gap between people who may be fighting or are estranged, and just aren’t ready to speak face-to-face.

E-mail: Friend or Foe?

Computers and e-mail have revived letter-writing for many people. For purists, a computer-generated letter or an e-mail is a sorry excuse for a handwritten note delivered in one’s actual mailbox. But there is no denying that they help people connect who might not otherwise.

For instance, people who wouldn’t think of voicing their opinion on an issue now find it easier to speak out and send their thoughts along at the click of the mouse, thanks to e-mail. Or someone who couldn’t imagine handwriting a Christmas letter to everyone on his or her list now recounts the ups and downs of the past year in fancy fonts and 12-point type (10, if you want to squeeze in more).

It also helps keep numerous people informed about situations such as illness, pregnancies, etc., with greater frequency and less effort than individual notes or letters require.

Grab a Pen and Get Writing

One of my New Year’s resolutions every year is to stay in better touch with friends and family. You may want to experiment with a similar resolution. Here are some suggestions for getting started:

• Make a list of people you would like to stay in touch with, but haven’t. Choose one person for each month—maybe the month of his or her birthday—and send a note or letter. One letter a month doesn’t seem like such a daunting task.

• Start a round-robin letter with your family or group of friends—either on paper or via e-mail. It’s a great way for everyone to stay connected and not have to rely on someone else to fill them in on what’s happening with so-and-so.

• Make your voice heard on issues about which you feel strongly, such as education, military actions, abortion, the death penalty and others by writing letters to the appropriate authorities.

•Oftentimes I have every intention of writing someone a brief note to say, “Hi,” “Congratulations,” “Thinking of you,” etc., but never seem to have all the essentials, such as notecards or paper, stamps or envelopes. Make yourself a package containing all the items you need for dropping someone a line.

• The thought of writing a long letter may seem overwhelming with our busy lives, but a brief note can mean just as much to someone. Write a short note while you’re waiting to pick the kids up from school or sports, at the doctor’s office or anywhere else you find yourself with a few spare moments.

• Write notes to your kids and put them in their lunch bags or book bags. For instance, send them a note of encouragement on the day of a big test.

• Remind your husband or wife how much you love him or her by adding a brief note to the shopping list or tucked into his wallet or her purse.

When my Aunt Ellie sent me that letter shortly before she died, I bet she never imagined how much it would mean to me. Remember that you don’t have to pen a novel when writing someone a letter. Just the fact that you took the time to acknowledge that person with a note means a lot. So the next time you can’t decide whether or not to write and say, “How’s it going?” or “Thanks,” do it. You never know how much it might mean to that person.

Next Month: Who Was St. Valentine?




When I was a teenager, one of the hardest things I faced was talking to my parents. It always seemed they misunderstood what I was saying. Then I felt they weren't listening and it usually ended up in an argument. Or sometimes there were questions I had but was too embarrassed to ask face-to-face. Sound familiar?

If so, maybe you and your mom and dad could start a mutually written journal to help your discussions along. Every week, one of you will write something in the journal. It could be something neat, upsetting or confusing that happened to you. It could be a question you have. The sky's the limit. Then pass the notebook on to either your mom or dad. Now it's their turn. They should do the same thing you did and then pass it on. You may be surprised at how much you learn about each other and how much you look forward to getting the notebook back.


Sending someone a letter can be fun, but how about making it even more fun? Instead of just writing a letter, create a picture letter by either drawing, cutting things out of magazines or newspapers or using photos (use only photos for which your mom or dad has given you permission) and pasting them onto the paper.

For instance, if you want to send your friend a letter about your new dog, draw a picture of your dog, find a dog in a magazine or use a snapshot. When you're done, ask someone to help you mail it to your friend. And don't forget to ask him or her to send you a letter back!

Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at "Faith-filled Family," 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to

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