The Write the letter, Don't send it Post

You may have heard this TherapyDoc aphorism.

Write it. Don't send it.

See, we can be talking about something (you will, that is, while I nod) and at some point you'll say,

"Oh, man. I have to write the letter. I'll just write (that person) a letter and explain EXACTLY what I mean."

Which is my cue to say, Write it. Don't send it.

Or, Sure, sure write it, then let's take a look at it and maybe tweak it a little.

And we do.

We resist the temptation to immediately press "send" because you know that under the influence of emotion, empowered with a rise in seratonin, maybe the overall sense of well-being you get from working on things in therapy, that you're vulnerable to acting impulsively and screwing something up big time.

Empowerment is a dangerous thing. For example, did you know, there's a saying that when a suicidal person gets better, THAT'S when the danger of suicide is most likely. When a person feels better, the energy is available to accomplish the job.

Same with other impulsive, can't take 'em back behaviors, which is one of the reasons I thought long and hard before ever blogging.

But if all you ever get from this blog is the idea that you should watch out for your suicidal friends when they say they're feeling better, then it's been worth the trip.

It is true that when we feel those emotional surges, happy or sad, we're more likely to say or do something we'll regret in the morning. We regret sending the letter as soon as it's in the mailbox. We regret having pressed "send."

So slow it down when you feel good is all. Reread it. Letters can always get better.

Today was supposed to be Movie Friday but I looked back on the week and as usual I had seen No Movies. I considered maybe watching Return to Neverland, the Peter Pan movie which was on cable but didn't have the patience, and it had been an entertaining enough week what with the opera and all. AND on another night I ate out. Will the fun ever end.

As a last ditch media effort I squeezed in 30 minutes last night to watch The Office. This is a popular show as you probably know.

Even my favorite not-so-vanishing blogger Of Fish and Family, recently wrote about meeting Steve Carell, the star. Since I've already discussed one of Steve's movies, The Forty Year Old Virgin, imagine how all of that just came together tonight.

Happened to glance over at the muted teev and The Office was just on.

No, that's not how it went at all. Staring at the t.v. guide on the screen for who knows how long I finally settled on The Office.

I'd take a half hour and put up my feet.

After all, I'd been cooking at least 45 minutes and had a couple hours more to go, for sure, before clean-up time.

I watched the teaser (the first couple of minutes of a show before it breaks for commercials is called a teaser) and in the teaser the star of the show, Steve Carell, who plays Michael, did something that stopped me in my tracks.

What he did reminded me something I had done as a young mom.

Which is weird because the Michael character on the show has never been married or had any children. He's the office manager (I guess) and his life is pretty unexciting (I think).

Anyway, on the teaser Michael is in the process of making a video for the son he's never had because he's afraid that he'll die one day and he won't have had time to teach this son that he's never had many things. Things like

jumping a car to get it starte.

So it was cute. And it sent me into a bit of a reverie.

Here it is.

When I was a young therapy doc I had small children. They were babies, even, and for me, along with having babies and children came catastrophic fears. These are normal and pediatricians, or family practitioners like F.D. tell parents that it's normal to worry that anything and everything that might happen to their child, but that they shouldn't let themselves get overwhelmed by these fears since the odds of the realization of catastrophe are slim.

What the doc is NOT telling you is that he is worried about EVEN MORE terrible things that can happen to his kids and yours, too, because he knows about SO MANY MORE terrible illnesses and diseases than you do.

Now when I would think of a terrible thought about something unbelievably terrible, I'd tell F.D. about it and he would usually calm me down. His favorite thing was to say: Well, that's really unlikely. That won't happen. That makes no sense. You don't want to know about the stuff you really should be worried about. You're too anxious as it is.

And he wouldn't tell me any more.

That sure calmed me down.

Anyway, I remember, among other things, thinking this very normal parental thought:

-- If I die these kids are toast. They're finished. How will they make it without me? They LOVE me. They love me like CRAZY. I'm their MOM. Who will look at them like I do? Who will listen to them like I do? No one can love them like I do. But it's so possible. It CAN happen. It'll ruin them. But anything can happen. It can happen.

I can get into a car wreck.
A dissatisfied patient can come in with a gun and shoot me. Dead. Or stab me with a knife.
I could get cancer. I could HAVE cancer.
The house could blow up. It's possible.
I could get an infection that goes to my heart or my brain or someplace no one can find it.

These things happen.

So I wrote the kids a letter and folded it up with our will. The children weren't even all born yet, one was a per sterpes, and the others were all under six. Yeah, four under six.

In it I remember being concerned primarily with what kind of people they'd be, how they would make decisions. I remember naming the people I trusted, the ones they should go to for advice. I told them to stick with religious studies, never to forget who they were, be kind to everyone, that kind of stuff.

But now, when I think back on it, I remember it was really a whole lot of gobbledy-gook, a meaningless stream of words that would have undoubtedly confused them at any age. I know. I found it a few years ago, read it and tossed it in the garbage, relieved that no one had ever read it.

Thinking as a therapist now, not as a mother, writing that letter and sticking it in with the will was for sure therapeutic. It made me feel that I had some control, as if there ever is something that one can do that can somehow take away the pain in such an event, G-d forbid, parent loss. Talk to Holocaust survivors.

There is no such intervention.

Sure, set up your wills, your trusts, talk to your kids and make sure they know what you believe in. Make sure they know the kind of stuff they come from.

But when I say write it don't send it? I say it because the letter I wrote sounded terribly maudlin and overly-emotional on the re-read. It didn't represent the person I was then or the person I am now. It was just an exercise in control. I'd have changed EVERYTHING about it if I were to write it again today.

Parenting, unfortunately, and you all know this, is not about what you say as much as it's about what you do.

Sure, you SHOULD write things down if it makes you feel better, and better yet, talk to people about the things that are important to you. Do have those talks with your kids, with your spouse, your parents, your sibs.

But you never get the last word in anyway, you know, not even with letters.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc


It reminds me of the "Everybody Love Raymond" episode where Deborah writes and delivers one of those letters to her menacing MIL. Funny 'cause it's true! I really enjoy the quirky humor of the office, but it wouldn't be near as enjoyable were it not for my snorting/snorking husband laughing out loud. I enjoy it mostly because he loves it. Although anyone who has ever worked in an office can relate to at least one of those exagerated characters some way. ;o) Ultimately you nailed it...again...There is no successful last word anymore than there is a "finished" check box for everything - it's never done. ;o)

Holly's Corner
therapydoc said…
Hol, you're so cool. Thanks.
Anonymous said…
I strongly believe in write it, don't send it, or at the very least have someone else read it for you first before you send it. This has saved many a fight, some jobs and much embarresment.
Great advice as always!
Anonymous said…
Can't tell you how many times sleeping on an important email has saved me from embarassment. It's like I'm two completely different people. Unfortunately, sometimes it results in a letter that ought to be sent not being sent, because who has the time and energy to rewrite these things???

You know, this posthumus letter thing must be something relatively common on TV; it was just on Scrubs too. Father of twins dies, two docs are responsible for delivering his letter to his sons, they lose the letter, make up heartfelt words to make the twins feel good, letter is found, all father wrote was, "remember to clean out the gutters."

So, you know, it can always be worse?

Hey--good luck today. Ancient blood rivalries force me to cheer against da Bears, however. (Stopped downtown at Navy Pier this weekend--the whole city is a madhouse!)
therapydoc said…
The Bears will win, of course.
therapydoc said…
But both coaches of the rival teams are apparently really, really non-confrontational great guys and friends. They never scream at their teams. It's true, and they're good friends.
Poor Bears sorry. Anyway another amazing post.
therapydoc said…
To me? There are bigger things in life, honest. I just wish they hadn't had to play in such bad weather. The whole idea is just weird, that they would play in such bad weather.
Margo said…
I can't believe you did that. I learn something new about you every time I read one of your posts - interesting at this stage in our relationship.

So I'm not alone in the catastrophic motherhood fear thing?
therapydoc said…
You are SO not alone in the catastrophic motherhood thing. Why didn't I tell you? I didn't want to minimize your feelings, like say, Oh, everyone feels that way, when you were feeling so NORMAL. I assumed you'd have enough mothers telling you that. Didn't they?
Anonymous said…
I am a teacher up in coming and I was thinking about have the students write a bi-weekly letter to their parents/guardians. The idea behind this was to give them the opportunity to express what they know, feel, and need. Often times as parents we are so busy trying to keep a "handle" on things that we run out of time and energy. This in turn leads to little or no time actually engaging in important conversations about what our children are encountering everyday. I was going to collect them and then post them, however, I found your page and decided that maybe just keeping a journal of letters to parents would give the students the opportunity to express what was going on more openly and then maybe once a month or once every two weeks have the youth actually write the letter to their parents after looking over the past weeks worth of letters. I understand that putting something in the mail makes it possible to be caught on the other end before it is received, but I was thinking that if they had been given the opportunity to look over the past letters, maybe they would be more willing to let the letter be received by their parents.
Two reasons for wanting to do this: One- my mother past away when I was 23 and I kept the last b-day card she gave me, I wish there was more of her voice in the card, as it stands it just say I love you, mom. The second reason is the passing away of my husband when my oldest child was 12 and the others were 10, 9, and 6. They have nothing that was written by their father except recipes he wrote when he was cooking. They long to hear his voice as he would have spoken- the content is not necessarily important, but his voice is. I think of the parents who lose a child while they are still in school and think it would be nice to have these letters to look back on. Maybe this is not the method to use-journal and then 2 letters monthly- I am looking for suggestions as to how to present the letter writing process and ways to eventually communicate what is in the letters.
Kelly (middle school and high school endorsed)
therapydoc said…
Without going into too much detail, the journal assignment has brought kids to therapy. So OF COURSE I love it, because it's opened up kids to parents, and I'd like to think that most parents need to know what their kids are thinking and feeling. Psychotic, very sick parents can't always handle it. So maybe there's something necessary here to help children who might unwittingly precipitate conflict or abuse by doing such an assignment. Let me think about it. It's good food for a post. Thank you so much, Anon. You're going to make a fabulous teacher.
Anonymous said…
Emma I still love you and I miss
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