Thursday, April 12, 2007




My daughter collected the mail from our mailbox today.

She went through the pile of bills and triumphantly called out that I had received a letter.

I received a letter today. I received a letter on a cold and dreary day.

As with any letter, I receive, it causes my heart to jump a beat in anticipation on seeing my name scrawled on an envelope. A handwritten letter brings pangs of excitement, or glorious anticipation, of what ideas and sentiments are stored inside.

I always take a moment before opening a letter, as it is such an event.

I always glance at the entire envelope, taking all in, before I open my letter. Sometimes, if I am lucky, the scent of the author remains. And with this, I drink in the letter.

I glance at my letter.

It had my name addressed on it in a penmanship I was not familiar with.

It had come a long way. I can see by the stamps.

It was from South Africa.

Beautiful stamps.

I opened it.

And inside was a letter from a person I have never met. A wife of a friend of mine. A friend whom I have not seen in over twenty years. A friend who would write the most beautiful letters, on the most exquisite stationary, when the mood struck him and who I would write back with great zealousness.

For years and years, we have written each other, almost forgetting what the other person looked like or the sound of our voices. But we knew each other's penmenship. We never likened to e-mails as it would just dullen and cheapen a wonderful experience of true mail. It was a gift we gave to each other.

We both loved the ritual of mail.

But as the years passed, our letters, our gifts of words and insight into each others lives began to dwindle from every few weeks, to every few months, to Christmas letters summing up our lives in a long annual letter, answering questions from the previous Chrismas card. We would give a antidote which only the two of us would understand and love to each other's families. But our Christmas letters were certainly still cherished and most definitely anticipated, And we truly understood how busy life can be and there was always the promise of next year's letter.

She wrote to tell me how much I had meant to her husband over the past twenty years She wrote to tell me he kept all my letters in a shoe box. She wrote to tell me that he spoke of me often. She wrote to tell me that he lived a good life. And she wrote to tell me he had passed away from a massive heart attack. It took him right away. He did not suffer. She wrote to tell me how she was suffering, but consoling herself to the fact he received his wish. 'A good healthy life, lived to the max. He lived every moment'. He was loved by many and he loved all in return. And now he was gone. And she misses him terribly.

My daughter eagerly was by my side asking about my letter. Asking me all about my mail. My exotic letter. And I was short with my daughter, as I wanted a moment to just think of this letter and to think of him. To think of the last time I saw him at the airport bound for South Africa. I wanted to picture him, heed to his velvety voice and to hear his great gregarious laugh, and to be enveloped in the great bear hug he would give, before I buried him to her. I needed a few minutes.
I gave myself the time. I breathed in my memories but just as importantly, I exhaled.

And then I called my daughter back to me and re-addressed the letter. I told her of my letter and of my friend. It gave me comfort to have a wee arm around my shoulder, for her to ask me about him and truly listen to the answers. And then, when she was finished asking and she thought she 'knew' my late friend she added that she was sorry.

And for this, I am comforted.

I am sad. Sad to have lost a friend. Sad for his six children he leaves behind and so heartbroken for his widow.

And tomorrow I will go out, and purhase some exquisite stationary and I will write my late friend's wife a letter filled with memories I had shared with her husband, but most importantly to share the great loss and to keep his memory alive in my heart for a few more paragraphs and send them with a kiss on the long voyage back to South Africa.

93 comments:

BV said...

Life is so fleeting sometimes. And, things happen when we least expect them.

I like writing in my own handwriting. Such a lost artform. One day our handwriting will be in museums.

BeachMama said...

So sorry for your loss. Even it you had not seen him for 20 years, it still hurts to lose a friend.

Sayre said...

Oh! I am so sorry.

I was so excited about your letter because you see, I get the rare letter too. From my grandmother who is 88 and lives in North Wales. She was my first penpal and I learn so much by corresponding with her. There is always a thrill when I see her envelopes sitting in the pile of mail.

I'm glad you could share your friend with your daughter - and that you can share your grief with his wife.

bon said...

Oh! I know the joy of letters, REAL mail-type letters! When it's the pen you choose and the material you write on as well as the words that convey meaning. To say nothing of your actual handwriting.

Sorry this one had bad news.

Janet a.k.a. "Wonder Mom" said...

I'm so sorry.

noelle said...

I'm sorry to read of your sadness and of your friend's wife's sadness. Always, with death, I think it's a good opportunity to reevaluate our own lives and to make sure those we love KNOW it. I hope you'll take time to re-live memories and to experience your friendship with him one more time.

chichimama said...

I am so sorry. For his family and for you.

Sarah said...

Thanks for your inspiration. I sat down and wrote some postcards after reading your story.

Michelle said...

thanks for your comment; I was shaking all day anytime I thought about how far she could have gotten down the street!

I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend; I'm sure that came as a great shock. I'm sure his wife would appreciate any thoughts and memories you put together to send to her.

JLee said...

I was just thinking what a shame it is we never hand write letters anymore. I used to have a pen pal in junior high and it was so much fun! Then, in high school, my first love lived in a town far from me, so we would write letters back and forth. If you get a chance, watch a movie called "Possession" with Gwyneth Paltrow. It's a beautiful love story where they write back and forth. Anyway, I'm on a tangent and I want to say I am so sorry for the loss of your friend.

Mamacita Tina said...

So sorry to hear of your friend's passing. You are wonderful to share your memories of him with his wife, and in a special way that meant so much to him.

Kevin Charnas said...

Oh Pend...I'm so, so sorry...

As usual, your account is beautifully written.

And as usual, your account has left my eyes watering.

With Love and Warmest Regard
Yours,
Kevin

M said...

Letters, real letters, mean so much even when they carry some not so happy news.

Oh, The Joys said...

Oh, Pend.

I am so sorry for your loss.

I know your letter will be treasured.

xo,
OTJ

Dana a/k/a Sunshine said...

The lost art of letter writing..and the loss of a friend...and you tell it so exquisitely. Painful. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. I am very sure that the wife will treasure your letter and thoughts of her husband. How very tragic..but how special that you were able to share that friendship with him.

seventh sister said...

Sorry for your pain. I hope you find joy and comfort in the memories you will write about in your letter.

strauss said...

You share my love and appreciation for the handwritten letter. I too cherish their rarity and the thoughtfulness in which they are crafted. I am so sorry this letter bore such heart breaking news, about your dear friend.
I know when my Grandpa died two years ago, it was of great comfort adn surprise to read the loving memories of him through anothers eyes, when delivered inside a sympathy card.

Stepping Over the Junk said...

I think I begin every comment on your blog with "I love this..." Wow. This is special and amazing. The fact that she wrote you and what she said and how she was reaching out and how you shared it with your daughter.

I have had old fashioned writing letters exchanged for many many years with special people in my life. A few I still keep in touch just as exquisitely as I did before, just in email. I am surprised it has been maintained. And am grateful for it.

I'm breaking out my notecards and going to send a few through the old post office!

urban-urchin said...

I am so sorry for your loss.

jen said...

i think people often use the expression of being moved to tears.

but i actually am sitting here moved to tears.

beautiful. and you, too.

Kim Ayres said...

A beautiful post, Pendullum, and worthy of that friendship.

Eryl Shields said...

Dear Pendullum,

I am so sorry for the loss of your old friend and also that of the promise of the Christmas letter. But perhaps this will be the beginning of a new letter writing era for you. Wouldn't it be wonderful if your friend's wife replies to your reply? Then you can reply to her's and on and on ad infinitum.

Judging by all the comments to this post the art of letter writing is well on the way to becoming rekindled. And in no small part, I suspect, thanks to you and your friend and his wife your new friend in waiting.

PunditMom said...

I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your friend. This was a beautiful post and lovely tribute to what sounds like a special friendship.

Mama Drama Jenny said...

I'm so sorry. If I had the words I'd make it all better, make him feel close to you for a moment longer. All I can do is tell you I'm thinking of you, and of lost friends.

Mandy said...

I am so sorry for your loss. He must have been a very dear friend. I still love getting the occasional handwritten letter from relatives from afar, but you're right, email has taken the place of letters, and it's too bad. Your post inspires me to write more.......

K said...

I came back to comment again because this post has never left my mind, but now realize I didn't manage to actually post the comment. So..

You are the most fascinating person I have ever "met". I love your ability to appreciate traditions of the past while embracing the wonder of the new.

This post was a moving trip through time.

I am so very sorry for your loss.

mamatulip said...

So sorry, my friend. I know your friend's wife will cherish the letter you'll write to her.

scribbit said...

I had to read it again. I loved this.

Rhea said...

A very poignant moment.

Jen said...

I'm sorry about your friend. That was a beautiful and lovely tribute to him. He sounds like he was a wonderful man.

yerdoingitwrong said...

I'm so sorry, girl. It's terribly hard to lose a friend. My son is named after a close friend of mine that lost his battle with cancer.

That letter you send full of fond memories will mean SO much. Take care of yourself and I'm thinking of you. xo.

EsLocura said...

How truly amazing it is to share a fabulous friendship, It is a gift. How sad to lose such a special friend. But isn't it wonderful that he was a part of your life.

G said...

I am quite sure that your letter will mean the world to his wife and family!!!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Pendullum, I'm so very sorry for your loss. And for theirs, his family in South Africa.

Every time we lose a friend, our own life constricts a little. I'm glad that your daughter is there for you, and even without exquisite stationery, your words are always exactly what is needed.

Amber said...

How thoughtful and wonderful for her to take the time during her mourning to share and buoy YOU up!

Many blessings...

kim said...

Im so sorry Pen... hopefully your letter will give her another glimpse of her husband, another memory to cherish. I'll be thinking of you *hugs*

shoparound said...

I'm sorry this letter wasn't a happy one. I'm sure you will share some nice memories that will be quite comforting to her.

Lady M said...

Another beautiful post. I'm sorry about the loss of your friend. I'm sure his wife will be glad to receive your letter.

Practically the only letters I handwrite any more are thank-you notes. It'd be nice for my husband and me to each have a stack of letter from each other, but we keep in touch by phone or email when we're away. It's more timely, but not as romantic.

Pattie said...

I am sure his wife (and his children) would treasure that letter you will write and share those memories with them.
I am sorry about the loss of your friend.

CrankMama said...

Beautifully written, as usual Pendullum. The joys of letter-writing and friendship exquisitely described.

Sigh.

Thanks for this reminder.

Bon said...

what an incredibly beautiful tribute.

i miss getting handwritten letters...you had me from the moment you mentioned them. but as the story unfolded, and i realized your friend was gone, i was left thinking "how lovely that she shares him in words...and thank god for electronic words, because while handwritten letters are lovely, they cannot do this. they cannot write to hundreds, randomly, at once."

thanks for sharing your friend, and your loss, and reminding me that i should go write some damn letters.

Bellezza said...

There's something about real letters, on exquisite stationary, in beautiful handwriting that makes them a treasure. I used to even scent mine, to my fiance, with my favorite perfume when he lived far away in Germany. I hate to think letters like this may have become a lost art; I'm so glad you and your friend had this bond to share. I keep every letter I receive, bundled in the year with a silk ribbon...I hope we're not some of the few.

Queen of the Mayhem said...

What a kind and thoughtful person you are! Your writing is so eloquent...it's as if I am living the story right along with you!

I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. I suppose your only comfort is knowing he is in a better place now! ( And that is not much of one.....even though I know that should make me feel better....it is of little help..at least, at first!)

I will pray for your friend and the family he left behind!

Here's hoping your next letter brings better news!

Catch said...

Im sure she will enjoy the letter you send to her so much! Im sorry you lost your friend Pen. But how kind of her to sit down and write to you about him. Im sure it will give her some comfort to correspond with you. Hugs to you my sweet friend...go buy that stationary!

Nikki said...

Pend. I'm truely sorry.

Angelina said...

It's wonderful that you and your friend shared so many letters before this parting one from his widow. I think it's so thoughtful of her to have written you, knowing what a great friendship you shared with her husband, and that she wrote the news in a letter.

I'm so sorry you lost a friend!

Damselfly said...

Wow. I'm sorry to hear about your friend. It's rare to have that kind of relationship these days, rare to have "penpals" even though clearly you were more than that. How nice that his wife wrote you to let you know what had happened so you didn't just wonder your whole life....

slouching mom said...

Beautiful and so sad.

I'm sorry for your loss. Nice that your daughter was able to offer comfort in the way only children can.

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* (asterisk) said...

Another wonderfully evocative post, Pendullum. Several of my blogpals have lost loved ones this year. It's am epidemic. And there's no antidote, unfortunately.

Sorry for your loss.

Lisa said...

I am so sorry for your loss.

And sorry for his wife and children too.

Elle said...

Sorry for your loss. It is always hard to lose someone you care for.

I think the best thoughts are captured in letters (well and in blogs as well ;) ). I have certainly enjoyed finding yours!

Mary-LUE said...

Pen,

I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. This post is a beautiful tribute to him AND a... something... I don't know what word to describe it, but... Your shortness with your daughter and the time you took to stop later and talk to her about why you were short with your, is such a great example of good mothering, modeling the grief in the moment, the humility to apologize, and explanation of what had happened and how you felt about it. (Okay, longest sentence ever, sorry.) Well, I admire that in you and your daughter is so blessed to have you as a mother.

Open Grove Claudia said...

I am sorry for your loss. So many people make up the fabric of our lives. It's almost harder to loose someone who was the small stitching around the edges.

Blessings to you and your friend's family.

wayabetty said...

Oh Pend, I'm so sorry to hear of this loss. You two must have had some great memories together. And I'm sure your friend's widow will no doubt be very appreciative when she receives your beautiful words of condolences.

FENICLE said...

That letter is definately one of those things you tuck away in a special box & pull out later.

carrie said...

So extremely sad for your loss.

You are so right, a handwritten letter is a gift, as was your long-distance friendship. I hope that you may have that again someday.

Carrie

La Cubana Gringa said...

It's the best gift you could give her, that letter. Hope it's as therapeutic for you to write as it will be for her to receive.

Tanya Kristine said...

bittersweet. what a lovely gift you both have given each other.

Rock the Cradle said...

There is something so essentially intimate about writing letters...real letters, the kind that you get lost in as you write and read, so it brings that person closer than if they were physically present.

What a special, rare relationship.
I'm so sorry it's over.

Dirty Birdie said...

I am very sorry to read that you lost a friend. It is never easy and it's even harder to know what to say. It was kind of his wife to send you a letter to tell you how much you meant to him. I know she will treasure your memories of him and it is equally kind of you to send them to her.

He may have left this world but he will never truly be gone because he will live forever in your heart and in your memories and as time passes that will bring you great comfort.

{{hugs}}

Momish said...

I am so sorry for your loss. It is always sad when a special piece of your life slips away. I am sure his widow will treasure the letter you write full of memories and kindness, in your eloquent voice.

It give pause for thought that we now talk about receiving hand written letter with a nostalgic tone. It is nice to be reminded that all it takes is a piece of paper and a pen to bring the feeling and art back to life. I am going to make it my mission to write my friend across the sea a letter this week.

I want her to feel the rush of anticipation and warmth you just so wondefully described.

Stella said...

sounds so very griffin and sabine. and now im crying. softly.

thanks for the beautiful story..and im sorry about your friend.

also, thank you for stopping by findingzen to comment on my photos!!

stella

Mommy off the Record said...

I am so sorry for your loss. This was a very nice tribute to him though. I'm sure you will treasure the letters you and he exchanged over the years.

Da' Diva said...

thanx for visiting my site. Love yours!

Grim Reality Girl said...

Pen, you capture it all.... you capture the glory of a letter. The glory of touching paper touched by another... of reading words written by a hand vs. typed on a keyboard. You make me feel the wonder of a letter again... The wonder of getting REAL mail. And then you remind me of the loss. I am so sorry for your loss. I'm so sorry. I am so glad his wife wrote you. I am so glad you will write back. Your words always have beauty and you will wrap her in the love a shared memory. That will be a great comfort to her. She will feel less alone. Your friend will smile down upon you. The healing will begin.

pinknest said...

oh, sweetie. i'm so sorry.

Miga said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. Your letter will be a wonderful gift to his wife.

I wish more people wrote letters these days.

Chantal said...

I'm so sorry for the loss of someone who was clearly special to you and your life.

You've inspired me to write a letter.

Stephanie said...

What a beautiful post - so sad for your unhappy news. Stephanie
Forks & Chopsticks

Slackermommy said...

I'm sorry. It's so hard to when special people pass away.

Stephanie said...

I am so sad for your news.
Stephanie

Kelly said...

so, so sorry. What a beautiful gesture that she wrote to you.

Jodi said...

I am so sorry for your loss. It was very kind and thoughtful of your friend's wife to contact you. Losing someone we love is never ever easy, even if it's someone from long long ago.

Mommy-Like Days said...

We used to yell "Mail, mail, mail" (I think it even had a melody) in university at around 11am when the mail arrived. SO exciting to receive snail mail! Sometimes the mail would turn out to include packages. E-mail, not quite the same--it's great, but it's never inspired me to sing ;)
Sorry for your loss.

Christine said...

It has been too long since I have visited your site. I should have known you were amongst the letter writers of the universe. I would be your penpal in a second... I've found Paperdoll in Portland, OR and re-live all my stationary dreams there.

So sorry that letter had to carry such news... but how elegant of your friend's widow to remind you of the many aspects and curves of friendship.

Lawyer Mama said...

I'm so sorry. Letters really are something special and it sounds like your friend was too.

thethinker said...

Handwritten letters mean so much more (and are much more personal) than e-mails.

I'm so sorry for your loss.

ablondeblogger said...

Aww, Penn, I'm so sorry. Much love and hugs to you!!

mrsmogul said...

It's been so long since I have written a letter. I am sorry about your loss. I know you will miss him and his letters. Take all the memories and smile.

Em said...

This is my first visit to your site. And it comes at this sad time for you. I'm sorry about the loss of this dear friend. And what a rare treat to have exchanged actual letters with someone for so long. I can't recall the last actual letter I wrote...but I'm thinking it must have been at least 5 years ago. Truly an art form that seems to be vanishing.

Blog Antagonist said...

What a lovely story. I'm sorry that your friend has passed away, but how lucky you were to have each other all those years. There's something to be said for getting a letter the old fashioned way, on lovely stationary, smelling of far off places. It's something that's been lost in this day and age.

Caro said...

You brought tears to my eyes.

I'm so sorry about your friend.

KC said...

I hope you found some exquisite stationary. Your words, no doubt, will be treasured regardless. I can see those beautiful words.

Catherine said...

oh, Sweetie.... I don't know what touches me more - the idea of a pen pal that treasured your letters as much as you treasured his... or the idea that your daughter, in her infinite wisdom, truly listened and comforted you in your moment of grief. I'm so very glad for you. But also incredibly sad.

Gina said...

My condolences on the loss of your friend, he sounds like a wonderful person.

I think your letter will be so very special to his wife.

Jocelyn said...

Oh, my goodness. You are amazing, from your thinking to your emotions to your writing.

Kanani said...

Hello,
I saw your link on KB's blog.
I'm so sorry about your loss.

I learned to write by writing letters. Started when I was in the third grade.

Letters are like no other jewel. I have saved every one of my friend's letters to me over a long period of time. He has all of mine in a 3-ring binder. Some day he and I will sit down together, giggle and share what we've kept.

~d said...

Dear Pen,
A few days (weeks) ago you passed by my place. I haven't forgotten abt you!
It just took me this long to GET here!
I, too, LOVE love love the ritual of snail mail!
I am always writing it. I figure in order to receive, one must send!
Be well,
~d

parvenue writer said...

I've had a pen pal for the last 38 years. I know about the excitement of a real letter. I'm very moved by your post and sorry for your loss. You write beautifully.

Attila The Mom said...

Oh, I'm so sorry for your loss, Pen.

What a lovely tribute you wrote.

Kristin said...

Somehow, his passing is made even more poignant by beauty of a letter...

Ruth Dynamite said...

When you truly connect with someone, that connection endures. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend.