Why handwriting counts, and neatness doesn’t
Why? For a number of reasons. In part, probably for a similar reason a friend currently deployed to Afghanistan gave for why getting actual letters via the postal service is such a pleasure, despite having email and Facebook. It’s a bit like getting presents, it’s a tangible thing in your hand, and — my words, not hers — it makes the person sending it feel a little more “real.”
And partly, you will see things in a handwritten note than just can’t show up in a typed letter. On the scrap of paper my grandmother used to write a note to me before her last surgery, I can see how hard she pressed when she underlined “always” as in “I’ll always love you.” The ballpoint just about went through the paper. When I saw that for the first time — and it wasn’t the first time I was reading that note — a bittersweet feeling flooded me. I missed her, and I remembered again clearly, sharply, as if only yesterday she left, how it felt when she hugged me and murmured endearments into my hair.
Somehow reading an underlined, italicized, or bold-faced typed phrase is not quite as visceral, gut-level immediate. It seems more cognitive, a thought process of memory rather than a body-memory. We read type all day, every day, but rarely experience someone else through how their hands craft letters into words, and words into meaning. That, we can feel.
Some things you cannot tell in a typed letter: My grandmother was a very bright woman who skipped a number of grades before she graduated high school. She penned her way through the NY Times Sunday crossword. And she corrected my misspellings, mispronunciations, and miss-used language at every opportunity. But I noticed recently — and only recently, in maybe my two-hundredth reading of the note — that she herself had misspelled a word! Now I know it was no typo, because obviously she wasn’t typing it. I had never known my grandmother to make grammatical or spelling mistakes, ever. And here I had proof, in fact, of a usage error.
When I saw that, and realized it for what it was, it triggered an entire slew of memories, some of which were things I had forgotten I remembered about her. So here I was, re-reading her note, and having a cinematic moment of remembrance of my grandmother. And once more, it made her feel very close.
This is just for starters. If your handwriting is, truly, completely illegible this is what I recommend: Handwrite it anyway, and then either type it out, too, or have someone else type it for you. Keep both copies, and when you share, be sure to provide both copies.
If the length of what you wish to write, or your physical condition prevents you from doing so much (or any) longhand writing, then here’s the next-best thing: Type it, or audio record it and have that transcribed, and then add whatever you can in handwriting at the end, even if that is only something as brief as “I love you all, (your name signed).”
I’ll post a photo of my grandmother’s note soon. When I gave a talk about ethical wills for a hospice’s volunteers, I showed them the original handwritten note (inside an archival-quality sleeve) as well as a typed version. When I asked each volunteer which version they would prefer to receive, 100% chose the handwritten one. Why? Because each of them felt, much more closely, the presence of the writer. This is one way to “be here then” for those you love. Do not mistake the power of a handwritten note.
Review the Sample Ethical Wills page to get some ideas for how to do yours. If you are a hospice volunteer, you might offer to help your person in this way, if they wish it. And coming up soon will be one or more posts on how artists can make imaginative legacy communications via sketchbooks.Thanks for reading — and share any ideas you may have, too.