Davich: What are the ‘things you would have said’?
JERRY DAVICH September 3, 2013 11:06PM
Updated: October 5, 2013 6:22AM
If you could tell something to a dead loved one or friend – something you’ve always wanted to say but never did or never could — what would it be? And to whom?
Would you tell your mother how much you loved her because you failed to do so when she was alive? Would you thank a former mentor who changed your life at an early age? Would you rage at your alcoholic father who abused you during childhood?
This is the timeless premise of a new book by Jackie Hooper, a Portland, Ore. author, public speaker and life coach who will visit our region later this month.
“I wanted to help give people a second chance, perhaps to feel like they’re finally getting to have that final conversation,” Hooper told me. “I want people to know they weren’t alone with their feelings.”
Sometimes this can be the cruelest aspect of losing a loved one, being surrounded by so many other people yet still alone with our feelings of regret. Hooper discovered this sociological trait a few years ago after launching a community writing project.
“I wanted to help people find their voice, especially if they think they didn’t have one,” she said, naming the project “The Things You Would Have Said.”
Hooper asked the same question to dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of people. She has since received innumerable responses from people across the globe, each letter laced with poignant pleas or furious missives to deceased loved ones.
“People of all ages and backgrounds wrote to brothers who committed suicide, past teachers who made an impact, and to girls they bullied in school,” Hooper said.
Her community project-turned-hobby led to a blog, www.wouldhavesaid.com, and then to her book, “The Things You Would Have Said: The Chance to Say What You Always Wanted Them to Know.”
“Whether the person has passed away, contact was lost, or the strength needed at the time was lacking, this is a chance to say what you have always wanted them to know,” her book states.
I experienced this same feeling of loss – and lost words – regarding my father who died almost 30 years ago. Those universal feelings prompted me to write him a letter in this column space on Christmas Eve, 2007. Here’s an excerpt:
“Dear Dad, it’s been 19 years since you died on that Christmas Eve morning. Like I’ve written before, sometimes it seems like 19 minutes since we last talked. Other times, it’s more like 19 centuries.
“Sometimes I forget I ever had a dad. Nineteen years is a long time. But then something always sparks memories of you, like AM talk radio, Pall Mall cigarettes, or saxophone music.
“Don’t get mad but I haven’t been to your grave in quite a while. Heck, I’m still not convinced you’re there. Or anywhere except for in my memories. But when I do visit I always bring cigars. Maybe you’ve seen them. And Brach’s candy for Grandma Davich. Orange slices. Her favorite.
“Well I guess I should go. I’m rambling. Just wanted you to know I’m thinking of you. Not every day – you know we didn’t always get along – but every once in a while. Time has softened me. How about you? Love, Jerry”
I have since written my father subsequent letters through this column, each one sparking a ton of feedback from readers who knew exactly how I felt, though they never met my father. Hooper has tapped this very human phenomenon through her novel idea.
“Surprisingly, the idea came to me after the death of actress Natasha Richardson,” she told me. “I wasn’t a huge fan or anything, but I was really affected by her sudden death after a skiing accident. I began thinking about her family and friends who probably had so much more left to say to her.”
The concept never escaped Hooper’s thoughts, and she wanted to help people who may have had “conversations left unsaid.” We’ve all experienced such a thing, right?
“It has been life-changing for me, and I can only hope that it has been life-changing for writers and readers as well,” said Hooper, who was soon asking her insightful question to anyone who would listen.
Not all of the submitted letters are gushing with heartfelt sympathy or uplifting joy. Take, for instance, this letter from a daughter to her dead father, posted on Hooper’s website.
“Dear Dad, I attended your funeral and all of your friends told me that you never stopped loving me. I wanted to laugh, but I didn’t; that wasn’t the place or the time to call them fools for believing you, but then you were always good at lying to people. “
“I was mad at you for dying and not giving us the chance to talk things through, mad at you for never getting to know your grandsons, mad at you for not telling me that you loved me, mad at you for taking away the chance from me to tell you that I loved you. Because whether we believe it or not, I do/did love you — you were my father — but after talking to so many people after your death it made me realize something. God you were such a jerk!”
Some letters came from bullies, regretful for their younger actions. Others from widows trying to move on from a loving relationship with their soul mate, or kids who lost their parents before they could articulate their mature feelings.
“People even say when they’re sending it to me, it almost feels like they’re sending it to that person they can’t reach,” Hooper said on a recent episode of CBS Sunday Morning (http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50145314n)
Hooper will share her readers’ stories, her personal story, and our collective journey on Sept. 24, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., at Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso.
She also will be the special guest on my Casual Fridays radio show, this Friday between noon and 1 p.m. on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.lakeshorepublicmedia.org.
Call in with your questions, comments or personal story at 769-9577.