Why writing a letter for Mother’s Day is never old fashioned or out-of-date

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BARBARA BALLINGER AND MARGARET CRANE

Dear Friends and Family,

We’re thinking of our moms as we approach that yearly Hallmark holiday this coming weekend. And there are some lessons that our mothers passed down to us that we deem quite worthy.

You might think we’re a bit old-fashioned, just as they were, but we think there are times when certain actions and manners seem highly appropriate, and more than others do. For example, emailing and texting just don’t seem to be proper decorum at times. Yes, it’s better to email or text than do nothing, but more prudent to call, and best to write that old-fashioned note or send a pretty card with a handwritten message at times. Our mothers would have been appalled if we had texted, “Happy Mom’s Day,” for instance, or emailed Happy Birthday. We might, too.

In the case of writing longer and more meaningful, we like to think our muse and our mothers would have been the late author, Jane Austen-or any of our other favorite authors and epistolary novelists…those who took pen to paper to share their kind, heartfelt words with some embellishment.

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Make them your muse, too. Good manners are never old fashioned or out-of-date. Writing a note doesn’t mean composing a Ph.D. and using lots of big vocabulary words and sentences that go on forever. Instead, a few thoughtful paragraphs are all that it takes whether you’re writing to say how sorry you are for a loved one’s passing or serious illness, for a gift you were sent, or a friend’s significant accomplishment-someone made partner, was promoted, received an award.

Too often, happy milestones are ignored. As someone shared with us, it’s much easier to be there for others when they’ve had losses and are down in the dumps. Being there when they triumph takes a real mensch to say “bravo!”

If the idea of writing a note with a beginning, middle, and end makes you so anxious, follow some of these tips. Your reward? The recipient probably will be delighted you did. And so will your mailperson, who too often these days only lugs bills, requests from nonprofits for money or a sack of catalogues, which make people frown.

Here are our 6 simple steps. Do them one at a time so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

  1. Buy nice stationery. It doesn’t have to be monogrammed, engraved, on the heaviest card stock, or from a fancy vendor. It doesn’t have to have your name or monogram. There are prepackaged tasteful notes with a pretty design of a flower that might work. If you’re worried about having enough to say, consider a card but still plan to add a personal note at the bottom. Buy a good pen. And don’t forget those pretty stamps; so many choices are available at your post office that can add pizzazz to the envelope.
  2. Start with a salutation of “Dear Such and So,” and move on to the purpose of your writing. “I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your Uncle Dan.” “Thanks so much for sending a gift for my 50th birthday.” “I’m so proud of you for winning that cook-off; I wish I could have tasted your great barbecue recipe.”
  3. Move on to specifics, so you avoid those vague-“I just loved the gift and know I can use it soon.” What gift? The person took time to choose something, went to a store or shopped online, so mention what they bought so they know you didn’t confuse their choice of a great sweater versus another giver’s gift of CDs. And if you’re writing a condolence note, mention a few things about the person. “I remember her love of fabulous hats and impeccable manners. She certainly inspired me.” If you didn’t know the person well, mention something you heard through the years. “I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but so many have said how generous he was with his time and funds for the reading program he started in our town.” For the friend or family member who deserves kudos for an accomplishment, sing their praises. “You should be so proud of yourself for producing that clever pumpkin-pecan tart with gingerbread crust that appeared in our local newspaper. I’m going to try it for our Thanksgiving feast with some real whipped cream.”
  4. Continue with something else thoughtful. Perhaps, “I look forward to wearing the pin you gave me to the birthday luncheon my friends are throwing for me next week and sharing that my dear friend Sherry bought it,” or “I hope all your memories and the trips you took with your dad will offer some solace. I remember hearing about that one to Alaska and wishing I had been along.” You’re getting the drift, right? For that pie, you might even get a little silly. “Thanks, I’m going to try and not eat the entire dessert at one sitting since I fear it will turn me into the butterball turkey.”
  5. And while you’re writing, be sure never to tell the person you know exactly how they feel if they had a loss. You don’t, even if you’ve experienced the death of a close loved one. And never mention, if the death was fast, “It’s so much better that she didn’t suffer long.” Yes, true, but when they’re gone, they’re gone. Finally, don’t say, “I hope you won’t be too sad for long.” They may be sad forever. Nobody knows another person’s timetable. And avoid phrases such as “He (or she) is at peace now or is in a better place.” That may be true, too, but it doesn’t offer solace to those still living and missing their mom, dad, sibling, cousin, or friend deeply and forever. Your job is to empathize and sympathize. Try to walk in their shoes.
  6. Add a closing that you feel appropriate such as “love, XOXO, warmly, fondly.” Date it, which is nice for the recipient down the road to go back and read and peg it to the specific time of their loss or happy milestone.

Now, you’re ready to pop it in the mail. And, of course, afterward, you can follow up with an email or text, but have your snail mail arrive first. It reflects good timing, caring, and proper manners. All the etiquette gurus would concur, including our moms.

Best of luck,

Barbara and Margaret

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