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Writing to Remember

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.

~Anaïs Nin

I write because I want to remember.

I want to remember every beautiful detail, every crushing heartbreak, and every messy moment that is part of the tapestry of my life. I want to remember and celebrate the chapters that were written and the seasons that have passed so I can call on them as a way to navigate my life forward with humility, gratitude, and grace.

I write to remember and hope that someday my words will linger in my wake for my children and those who I love the most or perhaps I have never met.

My writings began when I realized I had little reference to my family origin, history, or even memories that escaped. There was a missing emotional connection and link to how I was growing into myself with no obvious historical benchmarks. And so, it began….

It started on my son’s first birthday. I decided to write him a letter. I wanted him to know what had happened in his first year and I wanted him to look back and know the details of his precious life. I wanted him to know the milestones that were forming him into the man I would come to know. I wanted him to know what I saw and what I felt as I witnessed his own becoming and I truly wanted him to know how deeply he was loved.

On the second year, I re-read the first year and wept. I had already forgotten the details.

My daughter was born 3 months after my son’s first birthday, so I knew I would hold the same commitment for her. I wanted to remember the details. As a mother who worked full time, I knew that life would happen, and the moments would fade in the chaos.

I was committed to always making time to write the letters so I would always remember, and they would always know what I knew.

Five years later, the letters were being re-read every year and are now being filed in folders. One more folder was created prepared for the 1st birthday letter of my third child and my last.

The letters took a different shape every year depending on the events, but they were always consistent in timing, written every year and read out loud on their birthdays. They would highlight events, relationships, and patterns of behavior. Each letter was written from my perspective and always spoke to the personality characteristics that were emerging. In my heart, I knew we were growing up together.

As the children grew the letters shifted a bit from observations to life lessons. They were opportunities for me to give them words of encouragement and wisdom for wherever they were in their life journey.

Today my children are 29, 28, and 24. They each have a folder with a birthday letter for every year.

I recently re-read each letter and was saturated in gratitude. I set out with a simple intention to just sit and write once a year so my children would remember what I knew they would someday forget. What I know now more than ever is the letters were as much for me as they were for them.

I continued to write about events that were transformational in my own life and expanded my letters of love when my heart needed to be heard.

I continue to write birthday letters to my children, letters to those who have profoundly touched my life, those who have passed, journal entries, meditations that echoed, life lessons learned, and random insights.

My writings reflect my intimate and raw journey of finding my way and my truth by sharing my heart on paper.

Is there a letter in you… that is calling to be written and read?

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Carolyn Lebanowski
Carolyn Lebanowski
She began her professional career in retail and grew to become an experienced and respected senior-level executive with particular expertise in strategic development, organizational communication, and executive coaching. After nearly three decades of career growth in corporate organizational development, Carolyn was ready for a career change—and a life change. This led to a new role and the most challenging, enriching, and rewarding work of her life, as a Strategic Business Leader for nonprofit spiritual institutions. These roles provide her the opportunity to fuse the professional and the personal, aligning her business acumen with her spiritual identity and passion for the development of human potential—in her colleagues, her community, and herself. Carolyn is a writer who seeks above all to share from the heart. Her impulse to write began 20 years ago with letters to her children and grew into journaling that was unedited and life-affirming. Today she writes with a focus on raw, authentic experience, drawn from real life, to explore, express, and make sense of the pain and joy, struggles and triumphs, of life. In all her endeavors, she champions connection, integrity, and radical positivity.

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17 CONVERSATIONS

  1. What a beautiful legacy you have created for your family! My 6th grade teacher and I began a correspondence that is now entering its 54th year. She was an important mentor to me, a geeky, impulsive, creative child who didn’t really fit in to the rural school system I was growing up in in the 1960s. She gave me books that opened doors to the world. She kept encouraging me as I grew and finally after 40 years we met in person again. Most of our letters were on paper, mailed from wherever in the world we were. Now we email and talk on the phone, and still send paper letters.

    • Laura, this is an amazing story!!
      I can only imagine the phases and chapters of your lives that were shared – on paper! My hope is that by YOU sharing that story that it will inspire others to reach out and maybe do the same or some version.
      For me, it is all about connection, genuine caring and uncompromising compassion. #keepwriting!

    • I find digital writing very easy, and the reach, especially through beautiful platforms like this one, make it tempting to move completely into the digital space. However, I worry that it can all be lost in the blink of an electric blip… and while paper is not a forever substance, it does seem to last a very long time.

    • Thank you so much Loree!
      I believe everyone leaves some part of themselves behind, leaving their own legacy – art, writing, music, generosity etc.
      Sometimes we don’t even know the impact we have made on others. My writings are my compass and I feel so blessed that this piece has resonated with you. So grateful!

  2. Carolyn, this is so beautiful & powerful. I’ve written letters to my son, daughter, and now my grandson … not every year, but enough that I can relate to what you share. And, this inspires me to start being even more consistent with my love letters. My blog is the same for me, a sort of touch-stone to what I’ve experienced through the years.

    I love your opening, especially…”I want to remember and celebrate the chapters that were written and the seasons that have passed so I can call on them as a way to navigate my life forward with humility, gratitude, and grace.” Amen to this! Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you Sora!
      I feel so blessed that I had the insight when my first child was born at 30. I lost my parents in my late 20’s so I really did not know much about them, and could not recall any childhood memories. I wanted it to be different for my children. Keep writing…. it is your heart on paper that will be left behind.

    • Love you tons Summer!
      Thank you for taking the time to read and feel my heart on paper. Can’t wait to read your best selling novel. xoxo

  3. Such a beautiful and powerful practice!!!How fortunate for your children that you knew to capture details. I recently watched some videos and was astounded at what I didn’t remember! Jane wrote some lovely letters to her son which he cherishes.

    • Thank you Christie!
      I really believe we think we will remember those beautiful messy details… but is impossible as more experiences fill our sandbox.
      Anything left behind.. photos, words, videos are a part of leaving our legacy behind. xo

  4. What a beautiful tradition, Carolyn. I wish I had done likewise.

    I have instead the softcopy of the many emails I sent back to friends and family in Denmark after we moved to the US almost 25 years ago – not just about the children but also about the children. Alas, these last years when everything has moved to Social Media, the letters have become rarer and less colorful.

    And I have a small red notebook in which much of my oldest daughter’s first year is “documented” – if only she could read my not exactly legible handwriting.

    Fortunately, I also have the transcript of older family members memoirs: both my paternal grandfather and my great-great-great-grandfather wrote memoirs as did my aunt, but I have no idea where the latter handwritten notebook is today. Greetings from worlds long gone.

    • Thank you Charlotte!
      And although you may have bits and pieces, two things stand out for me:
      1. You have something… something left behind that has remnants of their life and yours. This helps keep the memory alive.
      2. It really is never too late to start.
      I always value and appreciate your loving insights.

  5. Byron,
    Thank you so much for this heartfelt response!
    I lost my Mother and Father when I was in my 20’s, and had my first child at 30.
    There was nothing left for me to really remember – so the writing began.
    I feel so incredibly blessed that I had the insight to put my heart on paper.

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