Danielle had something important to say to her stepfather. When he passed away, unsaid words remained in her heart. Not wishing this regret fall upon another, Danielle is inspired to create something special that will guide others to say what they need to say …
I have always been better at expressing myself through writing than verbally or through any other medium, and I’ve been communicating through the written word since I was a child. In my youth, I sometimes sneaked little pieces of paper scrawled with pithy but affectionate messages like: "I love you" and “Have a nice day and a good lunch!” in my mother's lunchbox to surprise her when she was at work. I'd leave funny phonetic notes for my father to see on his music stand when he came downstairs to check the answering machine. And I think my first actual full-length, heartfelt letter was to my eighth grade crush. Though I cringe at the memory, I remember the vulnerability of that act; of putting [gel] pen to paper (remember gel pens? Oh God!) and expressing my private thoughts to someone else.
Since reaching adulthood, I’ve written to the person who assembled my bike, to a restaurant server who went above and beyond while tolerating my inconsiderate dining companion, and even to the friendly police officer who pulled me over for my expired tabs. So, writing letters was not wholly new to me, but I began to think more about the practice after my stepfather passed away.
Lowell Vincent Morris – those closest to him called him Vince – died in 2018, right before Christmas. I had been meaning to write a letter to him for years, well before his shocking diagnosis, but I kept putting it off. Once he was sick, still I tarried because I thought he had more time, and I never got around to giving him his letter. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't even complete it. As long as I live, I will regret that.
However, one good thing that came from this failure of mine was that it made me think of other people in my life, other people I cared about whom I could still reach, and things I needed to say to them.
... it made me think of other people in my life, other people I cared about whom I could still reach, and things I needed to say to them.
In 2019, I made a list of everyone I wanted to write to, and I started sending a few letters here and there. Despite this piecemeal approach, the letters were earnest and heartfelt. Salutations, confessions, apologies – all of these were found in my pages. Each envelope marked another crossing off of a name on my bucket list of recipients. In 2020, I appraised my progress and began contemplating how I might encourage other people to write letters too. I aimed for a more directed scale. But how many letters? Just writing one didn’t seem like enough. Two letters sounded better, but three seemed perfect. Multiple but manageable. Other questions arose next: To whom would these letters be sent? I wanted people to feel free to write to anyone about any topic. And not to worry about length or form or writing instrument. But perhaps the most pressing question was what title to give to this project. Nothing else sounded right, and anything that showed even a hint of being correct was being used for something else. On the day of the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., the name came to me: 3pistolary.
3pistolary. Helping you say what you need to say.
I’ve always loved the word epistolary and had hoped to incorporate it somehow. I love the sound of it; somewhat old-fashioned and elegant. And there is a flow to it, much like the stroke of a pen itself. Combining this lexical choice with the power of three seemed a fitting choice. And what can I say? I never could resist a portmanteau.
By encouraging people to write and send letters, I’d like to combine the intimacy of a project like Postsecret.com with the impact of another like Pay it Forward. Ambitious? Yes. But achievable? I think so. As I said, there are no rules or restrictions as far as the contents of participants’ letters or the format they take. The letters can be typed or handwritten, in any length and language, on any style of paper, etc. There are no rules, though I advise that the letters be sent within one year — one year of whatever date the participant decides to begin. I am hesitant to impose any directives at all, but I set that guideline because I know that a deadline can be helpful. Without a target date in mind, a task such as this can easily become one of those things that we intend to do but never actually execute.
As for me, my goal these days is to work on a letter to someone at least once a month until I’ve reached the very last person on my list. I'm not dying any time soon (I hope), and I'm not in a 12-step program (though those programs are wonderful, and I’m not knocking them.). It's just important to me that I do this. We have only a finite amount of time on this planet. There are important things that we need to say.
Please consider joining me and writing to three people in the next year. You might be surprised by the way it may alter you and possibly your relationships.
To learn more about the project or to get some ideas for your letters, please visit 3pistolary.com.
Meet Danielle Hayden ...
Danielle Hayden is a freelance writer from Detroit who is currently based in Seattle. She is the creator of 3pistolary.com, a global letter project to help you say what you need to say to your loved ones.
Join the project here:
Follow Danielle's writings here:
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Danielle, what a beautiful response to a painful experience. As a memoir coach, I often encourage others to write letters and let those they love and appreciate know how much they are cared about. Not texts, not emails, but actual pen and ink letters. These will be the documents that end up being carried around in wallets, tucked in the pages of bibles and diaries, included in family histories and memoirs, pulled out again and again to reread. So yes, I will take your challenge and write those 3 letters myself as well. Awesome work, I love your heart and focus on connection!
Karen … I love the way you explain the value of using pen and ink – I hadn’t thought about it that way – these are documents that will be tucked about and reread as part of history. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing from your personal experience.
As a person who finds it difficult to verbalise my feelings, I understand what you mean about communicating better by writing. I loved writing and posting letters to friends and family in the old days and eagerly awaiting their replies. I don’t know why I stopped, but you’ve given me food for thought. I’m going to try 3 letters a year …
Danielle – this is such a beautiful project you are starting here. And so important. Last November I sent my mother and father a letter. They are getting older now, and due to Covid I haven’t been able to return to my home country. I wanted to tell them all the things they have done for me before it’s too late. I will continue with my letters is the spirit of your project – 3 for 2022. Thank you.
What a great project, well done! I wrote a letter to my mum in heaven published on my Blog. There is still so much I would like to tell her… @journeyofsmiley
Thank you so much! I’m so sorry about the loss of your mum. That’s so beautiful that you wrote her a letter.
I lost my mom in 2018 and I never get to say “I love you” or ask “How are you?” for the last time. You are working on a project that could help people like me unload the burden of not saying what we had to say to those we love and lost.
I’m so sorry to hear about your mother, Charina. And I know exactly how you feel–so many things left unsaid. I hope that this project will help people like you and me find some comfort and make the burden we carry a little bit lighter.
This is a very powerful story, and the I find the writing option very interesting, however if the the ones you write to choose not to read it, the letter will fall on deaf ears, however it makes the writer feel better.
So true–we cannot force anyone to digest our words. As you said though it can help us feel a little lighter.
Wow! So sorry about your loss. One thing I’ve learnt from your story is that we need to sieze the moment to do all we need to do before it’s too late.
Thank you so much. And you are so right–I’m definitely trying to keep that lesson in mind so that I don’t make the same mistake again.
I love this. I don’t know the last time I sat down and wrote an actual letter to someone. Everything I write is through text or email, it seems. When I was a little girl I’d write to my grandparents but that was so long ago now. I miss those days.
Thank you, Paula! That’s so lovely that you used to write to your grandparents. I’m sure they loved that. I wrote my Nana a letter last year as part of this project.