Treasured Letters

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In that drawer in the bedroom where we put things that are dear to us, we have three stacks of letters. One stack is from our oldest daughter, our second child, written when she was 17 and living in Switzerland for a year. It was so very hard having her so very far away, before Skype, internet, and inexpensive overseas calls – or was it before we could afford overseas calls. We missed her and looked forward to her long letters describing her experiences in a foreign land, speaking a foreign language, and going to school. Through her letters and photos she introduced us to her new family, the one she still visits yearly. I haven’t read these letters since she returned home and then left again, and again, and many times again. I started reading them today, and couldn’t stop. What a treasure they are. She hasn’t read them since she mailed them – maybe she will soon, or someday.

The other two stacks were written by J’s mother and father in 1936-37. Bill was an immigrant from Canada, living and working in Jackson. Mary was a widow in her early 20’s, dirt poor (this was before there was government help for widows or children living in poverty), with three very young children, trying to survive the depression. She lived 35 miles away in Marshall. They met, fell in love, and until they married a year later, they communicated with letters during the week, eagerly waiting for Bill’s visits on week-ends.

After they married, they continued to live apart while Bill looked for a home for his new family. After they were united in Jackson, Bill adopted the three children and loved them as his own. Six years later, Mary was surprised to find she was pregnant; and J was born to them.

I grew to love them for many reasons. but it was Bill’s willingness to love and provide for the three children that touches me most. They continued to live apart after they married because it took Bill several months to find a house for his new family. In those months apart, they didn’t pick up the phone for a long-distance chit-chat, they wrote a letter.

April 6/37

Dearest Mary:

Just now got home from work and am going to write to you before I sit down to supper.

It sure did rain Sunday night on the way to Jackson and all day Monday. I had a flat tire Monday, it is a wonder that it did not go flat on the way back Sunday night.

I see where you have a new mayor in Marshall!

I went over to see that lady last night, and she said that she was going to give these people that live in the house a chance to pay up the rent or else she would get them out. I asked her how long it would be, and she said she did not know to be exact; so I’m going to look around some more and see if I cannot find something else. She wants $25.00 a month for that house and the kitchen is small, I told her I would let her know later.

How is your Dad? I hope he feels a lot better than he did. How are our kids? Tell them I will see them Friday and to be good.

Well Dear I have about run out of news, so I will mail this so as you can get it Wednesday. Will see you Friday night. Lots of love to you and the children.

Your husband,


Will our internet communication provide us with the same sense of intimacy that these types of letter provide? As I was reading the letters written by Bill & Mary, I felt like I was intruding into something very special and private – even though they have been dead many years. They were written in their handwriting with unique phrasing that helped me remember their personalities. These stacks of letters will be saved as an important window into our family’s story.

You can see of all kinds of letters by visiting:


Yes, everything changes and it is sometimes difficult to keep on top when it is really fast change. At other times we don’t get on board because we don’t believe the change is making life better. Neither hubby or I carry a cell phone – me because I don’t like using the phone so I want to be in control of when I receive calls (and I travel light – without a purse). Hubby says that his phone has hung on the kitchen wall for 60+ years and it has always worked just fine there.

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Michelle, one of the wonderful blogging encouragers at WordPress, invites writers and photographers to post on how “everything changes”. You can join the fun at:

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Talking About Pain

During the first year I found that being sick brought up a lot of old, unresolved issues. It makes sense that having a chronic illness that decreases our functioning and increases our need for help from others would bring up issues around dependency, asking for help, and self-esteem. It can also bring up idiosyncratic personal issues, and a huge one for me was understanding, communicating and coping with pain. This was my favorite journal topic during that first year. I struggled to know how and when to communicate pain to others, especially those who were helping me most often – my husband and doctor.

I made the decision as a 4 year old that I wasn’t going to tell anyone about my pain, ever, and I would take care of myself. I had been badly hurt by a family member and I learned that if I told anyone about my physical pain they would create even more pain and I couldn’t handle any more. This was reinforced throughout my childhood by being told, “Stop your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” As a child I couldn’t understand the logic of that statement and I still don’t.

As an adult, I remained true to this decision and even when I experienced very intense pain, I didn’t tell anyone until I would end up in the emergency room. I don’t think I developed a voice for pain or learned the social “rules” for pain. Psychotherapy taught me how to talk about my emotional pain but I still hadn’t learned how or when to communicate physical pain.

I had an excellent comprehension of emotional pain, but felt like physical pain was an incomprehensible language. I wrote in my journal:

If someone tells me they are hurting emotionally, I know exactly what they mean. When I think of physical pain, my own or others, I don’t seem to know what it means. When someone tells me they are hurting emotionally, I don’t need to know “how much” or “how intense” to feel drawn to them and want to help them. When I feel physical pain, I get caught up in needing to judge whether it is severe or mild and believe that no one could possibly be drawn to me and want to comfort me. In fact, I am still very hesitant to talk about my physical pain. And fibromyalgia pain makes it even more difficult because there is no open wound or broken bone. It doesn’t seem real, even though my experience is very real. The pricking in my legs and hands right now feels no different than if there were sharp little pins in my clothes. My body responds to the pain with nausea and high blood pressure. The pain wakes me up at night and causes me to jerk. 

It seems like pain is such an overwhelming part of my life but a part that isolates me from people instead of bringing connections. I don’t want my relational connections to be because of pain. I know how human connection can heal emotional pain, but I don’t know how human connection can heal my physical pain. I know that I am the one who makes my pain isolating. I am the one who lies and changes the subject when people sincerely ask me how I am feeling. I only take my pain seriously when it causes me to cry or creates symptoms that are real for me, like mental fog and breathlessness. (Personal Journal, 05/04)

When pain became a part of every day, when would I say to those who care about me that I am hurting? When my pain isn’t life-threatening, in fact isn’t even a symptom of a fixable problem, why would I say anything to anyone? My husband asks me how I feel and I don’t know what to say. If I say great, I feel like I’m not being true to myself and should be able to be as active as I was before I got sick – and as involved in his life as he was used to. On the other hand, it would be a real bore for him to hear every single day that I hurt. In the early years, even if I had said “better than normal” or “hurting more than normal” I don’t think he would have known what to do with it. What I felt I needed was for him to understand that I might not feel good enough to do something one day, but not assume that I would feel the same the next day and most importantly not to tell me when I shouldn’t do something.

My husband had gone through the Fibromyalgia Program with me at Mayo which helped him know when to take charge and help me do the things I needed to do, like stay active and exercise. He also suggested that I slow down when I needed to hear it. I think I was really hard to live with in that first year because I didn’t want to talk about pain and was very conflicted about needing and wanting help. I wanted to be competent and independent like before.

Comment from my husband:    It was really frustrating to see the person I love being so sick and not know how to help. It was difficult and painful for me, too.

Copyright © Patricia A. Bailey and I Miss Me, Too/ 2012-2013.

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