Handwritten notes: Lifelines of love

Handwritten notes are an expression of love. Even a simple smiley face or the words 'I love you' in ballpoint pen are more than enough.

Rachel Stafford
Sharing handwritten notes is a simple act with lots of benefits attached, for the deliverer and recipient.

I grew up seeing handwritten notes as expressions of love. My mom worked long hours so she often left small, square papers on the bed for my sister and me to find. Sometimes it was just a smiley face, other times she simply wrote the words “love you” in ordinary ballpoint pen, but it was more than enough.


Starting in elementary school, my mom requested I write notes to my grandma who lived a few hours away. What I loved the most is that Grandma always wrote back. The excitement I felt when I looked in the mailbox and saw a letter in my grandma’s shaky letters never disappeared.

Even in college when there were tests to study for and social gatherings to attend, I took time to sit on my narrow bed and read my grandma’s letters the moment they arrived. By studying her handwriting, I could almost tell how she’d been feeling that day. In the end, her manuscript became barely legible. Those notes are now treasures.


I’ll never forget when the guy I was dating my senior year in college had a family emergency and had to take a sudden trip home. Sometime during the middle of the night, he’d dropped off a handwritten note telling me why he had to leave. A handwritten note of this nature from this particular guy seemed like a really big deal, and I felt incredibly excited by it. I tucked it away for safekeeping not knowing that note would be the first of many special letters from my husband.


The words, “I’m proud of you,” from my dad written in his signature black felt-tip pen, birthday notes from friends containing funny memories, and cards from my former students written in precious kid penmanship are all lifelines I can’t bear to throw away.

But I have to tell you, my greatest lifelines have come from my youngest daughter, Avery. Around the time I woke up to the fact that I was missing my life, my daughter was learning to write words. As I took small steps to be more present in her life, she began writing me love notes. Although I’m sure the timing was purely coincidently, these powerful visuals fueled my steps to let go of distraction and perfection.

I began to banish the “hurry ups.” I stopped skipping the goodbye hug that I thought we didn’t have time for. I looked into her eyes when she spoke. I even paused for 30 seconds during the frantic morning lunch-making process to place a sticky note in the lunch box.

One day I put a yellow Post-It note on her sandwich not realizing there was a blank one attached to it. When I cleaned out her lunch box that night, my note had multiplied. I cried when I saw she’d written the same thing as me.

“I love you Avery”

Throw out a line – it has a way of coming back to you.

I reached up and stuck my daughter’s note on the cabinet where the sandwich bread was stored as a source of daily encouragement. A few days later, I posted another one of her notes in the pantry where the cereal was kept, then another in my clothes closet where I got dressed, and another on the bathroom mirror where I brushed my teeth.

“I love you so much. I will love you for my hol intier life.” (whole entire life)

Wherever I turned, there were my signs of encouragement shaking me from my hurried, distracted, perfectionistic, and tech-obsessed state.


It’s been three years since I began my Hands Free journey, but my daughter’s lifelines are still posted. Now they are not so much for encouragement as they are reminders – reminders that time is fleeting.

Because the backwards letters have disappeared.

The floating letters have become grounded on stable lines.

The untraditional spelling has become traditional.

Letters are no longer gigantic, but rather small and dainty.

But the love, the love is still there.


Throw out a line – it has a way of coming back to you. 

Now that you know how important the handwritten note is to me, you will understand why this next part of my story had to be included. You see, a few weeks ago, I received a message from a dad who’s been packing a note in his daughter’s lunch box for nine years. Garth supplied me with a link to his story that was published in The Richmond Times Dispatch. I share two portions of the article that made a tremendous impact on me:

By the time Emma was 8 or 9, she had come to expect those notes. On mornings when she beat him downstairs only to find a note-less lunchbox, she’d actually come to him looking for the note, he said.

“That’s when I realized, this is something that really matters.”

After having a cancerous tumor removed, Garth came into the dining room to find his daughter ripping up the napkin:

Heartbroken, he thought he’d done something wrong.

Turns out Emma had been saving her napkin notes in a little black-and-white composition book. Opening the pages, he saw strips of napkins – only the parts he wrote on – neatly glued to the pages....

When her father got sick, however, “I was really worried. I really wanted to have a piece of him with me,” Emma said.

Today, she still keeps some of her notes, but not all.

“I mean, they are napkins, so they do get thrown away,” she said matter-of-factly.

Emma acknowledges that she tries every day to wait until lunchtime to see what her dad wrote. Occasionally, when she grabs a snack out of her lunch bag, she peeks.

“It helps me to have something to look forward to,” she said. [source]

I couldn’t believe it – a self professed “computer guy” who loves his iPhone wrote to tell me he writes “Napkin Notes” to his daughter as a means of staying connected throughout the busyness of life. And he called it, “something that really matters.” Garth told me it is his dream to leave a legacy for his daughter by telling as many people as possible about the power of a handwritten note in a lunchbox.


Throw out a line – it has a way of coming back to you.

Garth and his Napkin Notes have been a persistent thought in my head these days. He is currently recovering from another surgery related to his kidney cancer and perhaps as a means of sending goodwill to Garth, I’ve been doing my own version of the Napkin Note. As you know, I am a lover of the Post-It note, so Garth has inspired me to take 30 seconds to tuck a colorful square inside a guitar case, on a pillow, next to a plate of scrambled eggs, or in a coat pocket on a chilly day.

All I have to do is imagine the smile on the face of the one who discovers it and I feel good too.


They have a way of creating connection despite the busyness of life.

What calms a child’s school-day fears can be found in the smiley face above the letter “i” or in the curve of an imperfect heart.

What creates hope in the heart of a weary waitress can be scrawled on a napkin and left on the table.

What makes a friend feel beautiful can be written in a neon-colored Sharpie and stuck on the windshield of her car.

What brings our distracted mind back home can be a stick-figure family drawn beneath a giant yellow sun.

What we believed in and how we loved can be seen in our own handwriting 50 years from now, even after we’re gone.

What really matters in life is literally at our fingertips – at our fingertips.

So grab a pen and anything you can find to write on, my friends.

Throw out a lifeline.

Watch love multiply.

And may it come back to you when you least expect it, but need it the most.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Rachel Stafford blogs at www.handsfreemama.com.

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