This Friday we have a beautiful and moving guest post from Mary Potter Kenyon on using the loss of her husband as a catalyst for wanting to touch the life of fellow human beings and writing Tuesday morning letters.
Also, Mary has a GENEROUS GIVEAWAY for you, so make sure to continue reading until the end to enter. Lastly, check out her powerful post for the 2017 #sendcardsspreadlove challenge, about her amazing story of a thirty-year friendship through the act of writing weekly letters.
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Touch Someone’s Life With A Letter Ritual
One week without David. Two. Three. I’d get out of bed every Tuesday morning, and trudge down the stairs, bemoaning the beginning of yet another week without my husband.
I brought David home from the hospital after heart stent surgery on Friday March 23, 2012. The following Tuesday, I discovered him unresponsive in his chair. My partner in life, the father of my eight children, was gone, and I couldn’t bear imagining a lifetime of Tuesdays without him.
Approximately twenty weeks after my husband’s death, I made a conscious decision to stop marking those mornings with fresh loss. By then, I was sick and tired of the Tuesday countdown. I refused to live my life that way, despising a day of the week. I wanted to find a way to use my pain, not let it overshadow my life.
I’d already been doing that through my blog. Writing honestly about my own grieving experience was helping other widows. Several had emailed me, thanking me for putting into words what they’d been experiencing.
“Please don’t stop blogging about grief and widowhood,” one had written. “I share your posts with my children so they know how I’m feeling.”
I’d had an inkling parts of my blog would someday be incorporated into a book, but wasn’t sure what else I could do to help others, outside of writing about grief.
The answer came when a box from David’s sister Susan arrived on my doorstep; a care package containing an encouraging note, chocolates, a book, and a water bottle for the travel I’d begun doing for workshops and presentations. The package brightened my day, the warm feeling of knowing someone cared about me extending into the rest of the week.
Getting something other than bills in the mail had always been a highlight of my day, ever since my early days of marriage when I was a refunding/couponing wizard and my mail box was full of checks and premiums from company manufacturers. As a young mother, I found a support system in the pen-pals I’d discovered through ads in magazines like the now-defunct Women’s Circle. While those pen-pal relationships had been abandoned long ago, I continued to share a prolific letter-writing relationship with a friend I could count on to brighten my mailbox at least once a week. The sight of a letter from Mary never failed to put a smile on my face.
I reasoned that if a card or letter in the mailbox could make a difference in my day, surely it could do the same for others. The solution to my dilemma was to utilize my weekly-prompted pain as an impetus to reach out to others. Instead of focusing on my loss every Tuesday, I decided I would send out at least one card, letter, or even a package to someone every week on that particular morning.
It was one of the best decisions I’d ever made. Each Tuesday, instead of dreading the day, I met it with anticipation. Who would be the recipient of my outreach that morning? The first time, it was a widow I’d recently met. I chose a beautiful card and wrote that I was thinking about her and praying for her. I added a stamp and put it in my mailbox with a sense of purpose and satisfaction, unaware that she was in the hospital, recovering from a bleeding ulcer. She told me later that she’d nearly died, and my card arrived at the perfect time when she desperately needed prayer. The sister-in-law who’d sent me the box got a letter. My husband’s older brother, Keith, was the recipient of a long overdue thank-you, regarding his support during David’s cancer six years before. Two writing mentors got regular letters.
I discovered it was much easier for me to write the kind of sentiments I’d always had difficulty verbalizing: “You meant so much to David.” “I don’t know what I’d do without you.” As I wrote those unaccustomed words, I considered what kind of person my husband had become after his cancer experience; demonstrative, effusive in his compliments, at ease in expressing affection. I wanted to be like the best of him, so I occasionally penned the words “I love you” with my closing signature. With the outpouring of written words of endearment, I noticed a distinct shift in myself. It became easier to say the same words I was writing. To hug someone. Reach out in compassion. At first, stiffly, but eventually with more ease.
The Tuesday morning letters weren’t just making a difference in someone else’s day. They were changing me too.
When I began conducting my Tuesday ritual, I had no idea it might someday involve one of my mentors in a very tangible way. Not only had I won a writer’s conference scholarship from the widely-published Cecil Murphey, I’d met him and taken some of his workshops at another conference. He became an occasional recipient of my weekly ministry. When his wife died, my Tuesday morning ritual of reaching out to others took on a whole new meaning. This kind of loss was an experience I knew intimately; one I could help him through. I spent several Tuesdays in a row reaching out to a single person, a man who served as a writing mentor, then eventually became a dear friend. Cecil later wrote the foreword for “Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace,” my book detailing how I’d found grace and hope after losing a mother, husband, and grandson in the space of three years.
Recipients of my continued Tuesday morning ritual have included former teachers, interesting people I interviewed when I worked as a newspaper reporter, and even strangers; a woman who was widowed in her 40’s, a couple who lost a child in a devastating accident, and an author whose book was particularly inspiring. While I’ve occasionally gotten a note or letter in return, it isn’t about that. I have no expectations with my mailings. The cards and letters are simply a way to reach out and touch the life of a fellow human being.
Five years out from the loss of my husband, I can’t easily say how many months it’s been, and have no idea how many weeks.
But I do keep track of Tuesdays in another way, as my postman can surely attest to, by the outgoing mail in my mailbox.
Enter The Giveaway
Mary has generously offered a free copy of her book Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace to one lucky winner.
To be entered in the drawing for her book, just leave a comment below letting us know who your first letter for a weekly writing practice would be too. The giveaway is open until June 8th, 2017 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be notified via email.
Mary Potter Kenyon has Tuesdays off with her part-time job as Senior Services librarian for the Dyersville, Iowa library. Outside of writing letters, she is widely published in newspapers, magazines, anthologies, and five books, including the award-winning “Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace.” A certified grief counselor, Mary has written a grief journal that will be released in 2018. She teaches writing and couponing classes at community colleges, and is a public speaker for women’s groups, libraries and churches, on the topics of writing, utilizing your creativity in your everyday life, and finding hope in grief. Find her on Facebook at Mary Potter Kenyon, check out her website and also her blog about friendship and letter writing at http://www.maryandmebook.wordpress.com/.
Brittany Arjune says
Mary, you are such a strong and beautiful human being. I cannot imagine that sort of loss, but the one thing that makes you so strong is to turn your grief into something so phenomenal. You turned that ripple into a wave and you are touching so many hearts!
You are an inspiration and I just want to say congratulations to you for your positive outlook on life despite everything and on your book that I’m sure is as amazing as you are!
I’ve found a lot of comfort in letter writing thanks to Pretty by Post®, but I am still working on how to make time for a weekly practice. If I did, I think it would be between writing to myself to look back on because since I turned 24, a lot has happened emotionally in my life that I want to be able to reflect on. Someone I would write to regularly would be a friend from university who is the only girl I’ve ever met that has never owned a cell phone and no social media, so the only way to reach her is mail or email. We said we would start writing letters, but as we are both busy I want to carve out time for her. I want to get to know her better and to stay in touch in a way that is almost artistic for us both as artists and her being a writer 🙂
Danielle Nelson says
Thank you for the kind words to Mary & to PbP Brittany. You are an inspiration to me & I admire your creativity & love for your family & friends. Happy graduation! xoxo
Mary Potter Kenyon says
Thank you for your kind words. Letter-writing can become a habit. I love my Tuesday mornings spent with others through the mail~
Jessica Lake says
I love the idea of a weekly ritual to reach out to others! I love sending notes, packages, and cards in the mail. A simple but very appreciated ministry to others! I am going to focus on fellow moms and sending notes of encouragement to them over the summer.
Danielle Nelson says
What a fantastic idea to send notes of encouragement to fellow moms Jessica! Thank you so much for reading & commenting!
Jannie Bork says
Thank you, Mary, for sharing your inspiring story with us. It holds tremendously important wisdom – of finding your way through a devastating loss, changing your focus to transform a negative into a positive, and a lesson in reaching out to touch others’ lives. Too often we overlook the impact that a simple letter, kind word, or even a smile can have on someone. While I already make a point of sending frequent letters and cards, I like the idea of designating a set day. I have chosen Wednesdays, and the first person I will write to is the 4-year-old grandson of a dear friend. He is having a difficult time after losing his daddy in a tragic accident in December. I send him letters from his favorite characters on Paw Patrol. Thank you again, Mary, for being a shining example of kindness!
Danielle Nelson says
This is wonderful that you’ve chosen Wednesdays Jannie & that your first letter will be to your 4-year-old grandson. I’m so sorry to hear that he lost his father. I know that your cards will be a shining spot in his day. Big hugs.
Mary Potter Kenyon says
What a wonderful idea to write to a little boy. Love that you have chosen a day to reach out to others!