Learning self-expression is, for many, a lifelong process of growing to be a presence for others. It can be an elusive goal, even for adults, but when nurtured early on in life, a foundation for sincere sharing of oneself in writing can become a magical ingredient to powerful interactions.
I was reminded of this when I read in my local newspaper that sympathy cards are currently in short supply, apparently because of the pandemic. Expressions of sympathy are not just proper, but in times like these, they move to front and center, and become an important way to creates and maintain community.
Sympathetic messages about a personal loss by an acquaintance or loved one are very special times for genuine communication of care and concern, especially for children. Personally created notes, even written within a purchased greeting card, carry a much needed opportunity for learning about reaching out to someone in need of consolation, congratulation, and connection.
The dearth of artfully decorated greeting cards leaves all of us with the opportunity to sit down with a blank piece of stationery or an empty word-processor screen and decide upon just the right words that will best express our own feelings and wishes for a family member, friend, or neighbor.
How do children learn about the right things to say at the right times? What experiences serve in composing something between “sorry your dog died” and “what a tragic loss this must be for you and your family?” Well, I was told once that if I wanted to write a good poem I should start by reading 100 excellent poems. That is true in the case of any personal correspondence, too. Like just about everything in life, children tend to learn to create by studying the writing of others and by observing adults creating practices.
We lost our 13-year-old golden retriever last summer and then her brother in the fall. We had walked them around the neighborhood on a daily basis since they were puppies. Our appearance was an invitation to individuals and families to stop and talk with us and was always a signal to children nearby to rush over to pet the dogs and talk with us.
The sad expressions and comments of sympathy we received were always appreciated, but two primary-aged girls who were particularly impacted and, no doubt encouraged by their wonderful parents, sent us several notes. They were a clear indication that they, too, felt and needed to share the loss of our Maggie and her brother Casey just a few months earlier.
Those simple images became keepers for us, along with the heart-felt words and sentiments they expressed. Though we now have two 14-week-old puppies, those treasured messages still have a special place on our refrigerator. Those sweet notes deepened our connection to them and their family, and represent the emergence of what we predict will become lifelong, self-expressive writing and impactful personal correspondence.