Bookminded

books, art, culture, and other things I love

Category: life

Writing to Remember.

At my first college internship, I worked on the Obit Desk at a large metro newspaper North of Boston. From the perspective of a twenty-year-old, the job was the worst: the hours were bad (I had to be there by 6 am and it was a 40-minute drive from my Boston apartment), my supervisor was unfriendly, and my work (fact-checking obituaries) was uninspiring. Occasionally I would encounter an obituary that was interesting, and written with care—but the majority seemed to be routine catalogues of the basic biographical details of one’s lives. Sure, space came at a premium—submissions were billed by the line—but I often wondered why these remembrances didn’t try harder. There are likely many reasons that obituaries do not evidence literary flourish. Families and loved ones, exhausted from long illnesses or shocked by sudden deaths may lack the time and energy to memorialize the departed with anything more than the basics. Family connections and service times. But for each of those basic markers, there was an individual and interesting life that has a story.

When my grandmother died a few years back, I wrote her obituary. After my long ago stint at the obit desk, I knew what I didn’t want it to be. I wanted it to give readers that happened upon the entry a glimpse of who she really was, that is, though “Known to her many friends as Marge, she took great pleasure in answering to her other names: Mom, Gramma, and Great-Gramma” and to get a sense of how much she was cherished, “Her granddaughters fondly remember her as one who taught them grandmotherly things like baking and needlework (at both of which she was an expert) but also as someone who would serve M&Ms for breakfast, buy them their first lipsticks, and animatedly chat long distance when they phoned home from college. They both considered her an important friend and confidante.”

It was the most important thing I was ever tasked with writing.

Elissa Ely also knows how important these stories are. She writes The Remembrance Project for WBUR, for which she composes short essays based on the lives of individuals nominated by a loved one. If you haven’t followed this series yet, I highly recommend it—it is quite moving. This week’s piece on Lawrence Dorey had me in tears as a listened to its audio version on the radio. Each essay is beautifully done, but this one stuck with me (I think it was the mention of his connection with his granddaughter that got me).
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Encouragement: Free to give, priceless to receive.

Encourage. v. Give support, confidence, or hope to (someone).
Encouragement. n. The action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.

Back when I was about eleven or twelve (marked by the onset of my preteen malaise!), my hometown church minister introduced a new initiative. There was too much negativity out there, he thought—and as a way to counteract it, he offered a positive solution: encouragement.

The format was simple—the church would provide a ready supply of plain white postcards free for the taking. They were already stamped and ready to go. The only catch? One had to use the postcard to write a note of encouragement to someone and drop it in the mail.

This was a premise that was so straightforward, but had such lasting impact. Our minister explained that the act of mailing the note was also significant—it would show the recipient that the writer was thinking about him/her and making an effort to pass on an uplifting message from which the writer did not stand to gain.

Though really, that’s not true—when we take the time to genuinely encourage one another, it makes us feel good too.

I still have the postcard I received from a woman in my church that I didn’t know very well, but who I really admired. She was an artist that painted colorful primitives—in fact, I have one of her works hanging in my house to this day. The card she sent came at just the right time, at a moment that I was struggling with the junior high: trying to fit in and be my own person.

There is something to that, I think, how encouragement comes at just the time that you need it. After a particularly long day last summer (basically the day in the life of any parent trying to manage work and kids and activities), my husband sent me this note: I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for all you have done for our children.  You are a truly wonderful mother and a special person – always putting yourself 2nd or 3rd. He didn’t know I was having a difficult day, but these words came just at the moment that I needed them most. And with that, I had a new frame of mind.

Studies confirm the effect of encouragement on others. It is something that is free to give, but is priceless to the recipient.

Just think, we all have the power to do the same for someone else.

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On our chalkboard wall. 🙂