One year ago today my dad died. What I’m going to do TODAY and why YOU should do it too.

(Please forgive me.  This is a personal post, and I got a bit long, but I do think it’s very much worth reading, and I would very much appreciate it if you did.  I have a challenge and free gift for you at the end!  Close friends and family; the video we played at my dad’s memorial service is posted at the end of this post, if you’d like to see it again.)

One year ago today my dad died.

I sat next to him while he laid in bed and took his last breath.

I can remember that moment like it was yesterday.  After realizing his body had finally given up and he was gone, I stood up and walked away toward one of the walls in his relatively small room where the close family members and friends had all gathered.

I had what I can only describe as some sort of weird out of body experience where the entire world just disappeared.  The next thing I remember is hearing this awful, loud, mournful crying.  It took me several moments to realize that the crying I was hearing was coming from me.

It was a sound I had never heard come out of my own mouth before.  I think it was a huge emotional release of some sort – after all those months of losing my dad slowly, of knowing it was just a matter of time before I lost him completely.

Those of you who have lost a loved one can probably relate to some of how I was feeling then and understand that today is going to be a difficult for me as well. It turns out I will be alone most of today, which is probably not the best thing, but I have a lot to do to hopefully keep me distracted. And then, in the evening, I have a senior session which I scheduled some months ago, not realizing at the time the significance of the date. But, I’m glad because photographing seniors is something I love to do, and it will prevent me from falling into some dark place by myself in the quiet of the evening.   There are tentative plans with my mom and uncle to meet for a drink after that.  My mom told me she thought my dad would like that.  I have to agree.

I don’t want the anniversary of my dad’s death to only be about sadness. But, I’m not ready yet to just say I’ll celebrate his life and not be sad about it.  So, what I’m going to do is turn the focus around and onto the people I love who are still alive and in my life today.

After I finish this post, I plan to write a letter or two, or three, or four.  : ) I’m going to put pen to paper and write out my feelings.  I tell these people I love them, but it’s not as often that I tell them why or what they really mean to me.

And then, to make it even more meaningful, I’m going to use the camera on my computer to record a video of myself reading each letter to the person it’s for.  I have a few DVDs and labels here so I’m going to burn the videos right away and give it along with the letter to each person.  With the exception of the letters for my children.  I think I will share those with them and then put them away for safe keeping to make sure they have them for years to come.

Why the video?  Well, just the other day I stumbled across an audio recording I have of a conversation between me, my mom and dad, my kids, and a family friend.  It was after the brain tumors had already done a fair amount to my dad’s brain, but I wanted to record some of his memories while I still had the chance.  So, I had my kids reading questions out of a book that asked things about childhood and such, and I was recoding the answers my parents gave and the conversations the resulted.  We started with a video camera, but that ran out of memory so I continued by recording the audio with the iPhone.

Just listening to his voice took me RIGHT BACK TO THAT MOMENT.

I FELT my dad there with me again.

I wished I could see him, and even more so, I wished I had done something like that before he got sick.

But, we always think there’s plenty of time.

And we are always so busy.

But, you and I both know that neither of those things are necessarily true.

So, today, in honor of my dad, I’m going to reach out to those I love.  I’m going to make sure they know just how important they are to me, AND I’m going to give them something that will hopefully become a priceless memory and memento documenting my love and our relationship.

I challenge you to do this with me. Take some time today to write a letter, by hand, to someone you love. Tell them how much they mean to you.  Make sure they really get it.

You can write to your kids.  Yes, you probably do a good job of saying and showing your love to them all the time, but think about what it would mean to them to have that letter years from now?  That they could reread it and see just what you were thinking about them when they were 2 or 5 or 10 or whatever age they are right now?

How much would it mean to you if you had a letter like that from your own mom or dad?

You can write to your husband.  He’s a man and, therefore;  may not be able to verbalize how much it means to him, (smile) but I am willing to bet that if you really write a sincere love letter (When’s the last time that you have done that?  Have you ever?) to him, he will cherish it forever.

You can write to a parent.  We don’t ever want to think about losing our parents, but it happens.  And often those relationships can be the most difficult to show your love.  Whether your relationship with your mom and dad is openly affectionate or not, they will love to read how much much they mean to you.

You can write to a sister, a friend, anyone whom you love and appreciate having in your life right now.

And if you are able, use your webcam or even phone camera if you can prop it up somehow or get someone you trust to help you, and record yourself reading the letter to them.  If you need help burning it onto a DVD, here is some info that might help:

For Mac Users:

For PC Users:

Your letters DO NOT have to be as fancy as the ones I did!  I happen to have a creative soul, and once I get started on a project, I go to town!

What’s important is that you just DO IT.

Rip a piece of notebook paper out and find a pen in your junk drawer, find a quiet place and write.  That’s all you really need.  It’s your words that matter, not the fancy packaging.  (although fancy packaging never hurt anybody.  : )

Now, please take a moment and comment under this post.  (Scroll all the way down, past the video.)  It makes me so sad when I spend all day working on something to share with the world like this, and then no one joins in on the conversation with me.  : (

I want to know who YOU are going to write a letter to.  And if you feel like sharing, tell me what you think their reaction will be.  And even better yet, come back here again AFTER you give it to them and tell me what their reaction actually was!  It would mean so much to me to know that I sparked some loving words going out into the world! : )

If you’d like to keep updated when I write more posts with my thoughts and ideas and tips for you, as well as a FREE template for the DVD label I created and a resource list of the other materials I used to create my “love notes”, enter your name and email address in the boxes below, and I’ll send it right out to you!  (NOTE: If you are reading this email on a mobile device, you will not see the sign up form.  Please get on a computer so you can get your goodies!)

After you confirm your subscription, you’ll then be on my mailing list for a brand new weekly e-newsletter called Tangible Memories, which will be begin in August.  It will be filled with lots of great ideas for documenting your family’s life as well as studio news and other things I think you might be interested in such as tips to save time, kid activities, fashion trends and more!

With love,


{video above was shown at my father’s memorial service last year}

  • Sara B - What a beautiful post! I adore the idea of written letters. I save every card, letter and scrap notebook paper that my husband and I write to each other. I will write a note to each of my kids in our family gratitude journal, as soon as I finish this post. Thank you for your open heart, and for sharing your Dad with us.ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer - Very touching and a wonderful reminder of what life should be about… those little moments!!

    Since I also lost my dad to brain cancer (started as throat cancer) it’s been a little to emotional for me to watch the video but I promise to come back later to watch :)

    I always cherished those little moments but after losing my dad they became even more valuable. I wish we had more pictures and videos of him… he was the one always taking the photos. I do have a hand written note that he gave me when I went off to camp when I was a kid and I am so glad now that I kept that.

    A few of my friends and family threw me a 40th surprise birthday party a few weeks ago so I think it’s a perfect time to send them all a hand written thank you note and to let them all know how much they mean to me!

    Thanks for sharing this personal post and reminding us all of how we should value those around us.ReplyCancel

  • Brendab - Your beautiful article touched my heart , My dad passed away 3 months after migrating to my new country – a sad time of my life as I never got to say the goodbyes that I thought were worthy at the time. I love your idea of writing letters to my loved one’s and will be writing to my darling mom, who is currently undergoing an operation to remove cancer in a few hours, my children, and my most supportive fan – my husband.

    This has also challenged me to share my experience with the world, I have a blog post waiting to be shared, thank you for sharing your experience and touching my life.


  • Lisa - Sara, that’s awesome that you’re keep all those handwritten notes, and I know your kids will love to read/or listen to you read their letters to them tomorrow! : )

    Jennifer, my dad died of brain cancer too. :( What an awful, awful disease that is, isn’t it? That is AWESOME that you have a hand written note from him from when you were a kid! I wish I had something like that from my dad. I think writing notes to your friends and family with some sincere words of love to show your gratitude for being in your life, would be a great thing to do! : )ReplyCancel

  • Lisa - Brenda, I’m so sorry to hear about you losing your dad as well. I know how you feel about the good byes. By the time I tried to talk to my dad about serious feelings stuff (he wasn’t the kind of guy who talked much about that stuff, but I never doubted his love for me), his brain tumors had already taken too much of who he really was for him to have that kind of conversation with me. It was extremely hard for me to deal with that at the time. Now, I’ve just come to realize that he KNEW that I loved him, just as I KNEW that he loved me. : )

    My thoughts go out to you and your mom! I hope that you get wonderful news after her operation – I know how difficult this time is for you. I think it’s great that you are going to write her, and your children, and husband letters!

    And, I’m thrilled that I inspired you to share your own story on your blog! Let me know when it’s posted!ReplyCancel

  • cindy@yogainmypocket - Oh my gosh what an amazing post. My dad just died a few months ago but I am so grateful that I had the last three years with him – we reconnected after a 45 year hiatus. My experience taught me several things – first of all the power of FORGIVENESS and secondly unconditional love. When my dad died, I was eternally grateful that we had connected and were both at peace for the past, and I had no regrets. I did a blog piece on No regrets. Unfortunately it’s not online at the moment.

    Blessings on your journey forward,ReplyCancel

  • Theresa Lease - What a lovely idea and a great way to honor your father on the anniversary of his death. He has surely been a great influence in your life, and your love and sharing are a tribute to his legacy.ReplyCancel

  • Jim O'Learyt - You continue to be, well, amazing! Your post is a message to our hearts. I am constantly thankful for knowing you.ReplyCancel

  • Kathy Nyman - Dear Lisa,
    Loved your post and it was good to see your video again. I know what a loss you have suffered-and I hope that you and your Mom shared some special memories last evening. Brain cancer took two wonderful men last year-but it was also the beginning of a friendship for us. I am so happy I was able to get to know you and your Mom this past year. Take care and I hope to see you soon. KathyReplyCancel

  • Kevin Davis - Hi Lisa,

    Don’t know if you remember me or not, we met at the Zack Arias workshop in Atlanta a little over 2 years ago. I just read your blog post and I have to say that it’s an absolutely wonderful idea! My mom died of cancer when I was only 16, on April 6, 1990. I have a few photos of her that I cherish, but I would love to be able to hear her voice just one more time. I can’t go back in time of course, but I can try to preserve a memory for my kids, who are 13 and 11 now, so that in the future they’ll have a (hopefully) cherished memory of me. Thanks for the great idea!ReplyCancel

  • Lisa - Kathy, thank you for the nice comments. I too am glad that we met last year. I hope you will find some time today to write some letters. I know you know the value they will be to your children or grandchildren to have one day!

    Kevin, I do remember you! I have photos of you on my hard drive somewhere. : ) I am SO happy that you read my post and are going to write letters (and video??) yourself telling your kids how much you love them and they mean to you. That is AWESOME! I just finished writing my letters this morning and plan to video me reading them as soon as I do my hair and put some make-up on. : ) You are so right; our kids be SO glad to have these letters/videos of us some day! (even if they don’t totally get it yet. smile. )ReplyCancel

  • Becky Drake - Lisa, thank you for your genuine words and pure spirit. I will take your advice to heart and put those very important words on paper and let those people know how much they truly mean to me. Time doesn’t heal all wounds but I hope and pray you and your family are able to find strength today. Hugs.ReplyCancel

  • Lyndsay Martin - what a lovely post and idea,, working with seniors is probably a very healing experience for you, well done x.ReplyCancel

  • Kristen Blanton - I lost my dad three years ago today, October 11th, 2009. I have been searching online for “depression help” as that has taken over my life not only since Dad died, but also after I had an accident at work 10 years ago that has left me disabled and in pain, physically and emotionally. I took a break from googling “depression” and wanted to find a way to honor my dad today so I typed inside the search box “I lost my Dad three years ago today” hoping that someone has written those exact words and I’d find something.

    I hit the jackpot and here you are! So when I wake up later today I’ll be finding some pretty paper and one of my favorite pens, firing up the Keurig for a hot cup of tea, and sitting in my recliner while I write letters to my mom, my brother and sister-in-law, and other family members still with us. I’m also going to make videos of those. I’ll also be writing a letter to my dad, and one to my grandpa who just passed away a few weeks ago.

    Writing and recording the ones to those that are still living will be wonderful. What a terriffic idea!! And writing to Dad (and others that have passed) will be so wonderful and will help me immensely as I continue to grieve.

    Thank you a thousand times for your blog post! I’m so happy I came across it!


  • Angie G - Thank you a million times over for the fabulous idea. My dad passed a year ago on October 28, 2011. Your words touched my heart and tears fell as I read. Your dad would feel so honored and so very proud of you!ReplyCancel

  • Angie Zottolo Gallegos - I love your creative thoughtfulness in honoring your dad! Great idea and thanks for sharing.ReplyCancel

  • Patrick Emmanuel - beautiful I love this.ReplyCancel

  • Laura Paletta - Thanks, Lisa… Tomorrow will be the one year anniversary of my dad’s passing. I started sending more hand-written cards and letters this year, but the videos are a very nice touch. I have a few of my dad with my niece and I love watching them… Have a wonderful and blessed day!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Conant - Today is the one year anniversary of my dad’s passing. So many changes in my life since it happened, yet it still feels like it just happened. I think what you’ve done is beautiful and was nice for me to see on this sad day.ReplyCancel

  • Anonymous - Today is the one year anniversary of my dad’s passing. He fought a long hard battle. I will always be so proud of him. The pain is still as strong today as it was a year ago. He was not only my dad,but my best friend. As we fought the effects of his last stroke over the final year and a half of his life, we would always say to each other, “We are a team”. Dad we are still a team. Love you and miss you. Your son Kris…ReplyCancel

  • Pam Dunnam - Lisa, Thank you so much for sharing your moments with me. Today is the First year of my dads passing away. Dad was a wonderful man and a very spiritual man. He helped and was loved by so many people. Dad was a man of God and an artist. Mom and he would go down to the diner, dad would flip the placemat over and draw a pencil drawing of an old barn, a lighthouse or a windmill then give it to the waitress or cooks. His drawings are all over the country. Watching dad the few years then the last stroke was so hard to see. Mom sat by him, caring for him the best way she could. They were together for 55 years and raised 3 of us kids(myself and 2 brothers) they had 4 grandchildren and 1 great-grand child. My Mom died the next March 2013 quiet suddenly but we all say she died of a broken heart. it was like just yesterday although I am so very aware of all the feelings. I miss and love you both, Your Daughter Pam San Diego, CA
    The song on the video is so very perfect. Again, thank you for sharing and to know we are not alone.ReplyCancel

    • Lisa - You’re very welcome, Pam. The heartache of losing a parent is definitely something that a lot of people can understand but you don’t truly understand it until it happens to you.ReplyCancel

  • Meshell Gee - Beautifully done. The one year anniversary of my Dad’s passing is coming up. I too stayed with him till he passed… Tears flowing now while trying to type this. Currently trying to write a piece for the memorial part in the newspaper, its hard not to write a novel. Love the idea of writing to our loved ones, now while we still can. Could you tell me what is the name of the song that is accompanying the video. Thank you for sharing.ReplyCancel

    • Lisa - Meshell, Thanks for you kind comments. I’m sorry but I don’t recall the name of the song off the top of my head. I would suggest googling a line or two of the lyrics and I’m sure it will come up! I’m so glad that you were inspired to write letters to your loved ones too.ReplyCancel

  • Glenda McCarthy Gaspar - There is nothing I can say that hasn’t been said already. My dad died March 26, 2013 and I was trying to figure out what to do that day. I will write special letters to those I love. Family was the most important thing to my dad and our family came together during his illness/death. Thank you for sharing this great idea!!!ReplyCancel

    • Lisa - Glenda, you’re very welcome, and it touches me so much that people are finding this post I wrote almost 2 years ago and being inspired to write letters! :) Thank you for taking the time to write a comment and share your thoughts. Hugs to you as you approach your own 1 year anniversary.ReplyCancel

  • Lisa Thompson - Kristen, I just saw your comment today. I am so happy that my post resonated with you! And it makes my heart sing to know that you (hopefully!) took some time to write those letter because of my post. I hope they were received with lots of love by those who you wrote to!ReplyCancel

  • Wee James - The true eternal GOD Our Lord Jesus Christ is our eternal father… and we meet with your dad in heaven … Lord bless you in you deedsReplyCancel

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