The Three Types of Letters to Write and When to Use Each

A few weeks after I had my first child, my Mom passed away. Learning to live in the world without her by my side has been one of the greatest challenges of my life. So many times over the years, I have longed to talk to her, seek her guidance, and ask her what she thought about the life I have created for myself.  

An unexpected discovery of a Ziplock bag of letters, written to me by my Mom and grandmothers, from the first time I went to summer camp at age nine, until I graduated from college, changed everything for me. While it took me a little time to finally have the courage to re-read the letters, I was blown away by what happened next. Reading the letters, I could “hear” the voices of my loved ones and get a fresh glimpse of their lives and personalities. I never thought I could feel so close again to my Mom and grandmothers, and this experience impacted me in a profound way. The letters brought back beautiful family memories, taught me many life lessons, and I was able to get a much needed dose of timely and relevant wisdom.

I also realized not all letters are created equally. This experience taught me there are three different kinds of personal letters, including “just because” letters, “special occasion” letters, and “legacy” letters.

The “Just Because” Letter

Most of the letters in my ziplock bag fall into this category, and this is my favorite kind of letter to receive. Letters from my Mom and grandmothers were about what was going on in their lives: daily events and plans for the future. When I read their letters, I can hear them talking to me; I can visualize them smiling or laughing. What I love most about their letters is how real they are.

When you think about writing a “just because” letter to your loved one, remember that you don’t have to wait for an important occasion. You can send a “just because” letter to a friend or family member to let them know your thoughts and to tell them you were thinking of them. There aren’t any rules and you aren’t striving for perfection.

The “Special Occasion” Letter

These are letters written and given at life-cycle events, such as a graduation from school, marriage, confirmation, the birth of a child, a Bat Mitzvah or christening, a birthday, or a holiday. Special occasions or big life moments often prompt the writer to say something meaningful to the recipient. Frequently, these letters talk about how happy and proud the writer is and what they hope for the recipient; they contain well wishes in a deeper, more intentional way than “just because” letters.

Some people like to buy a card to mark specific occasions, and there isn’t a shortage of Hallmark cards. Many people spend a lot of time picking out a card because they are looking for the exact words to say to their loved one to mark the occasion, rather than writing the words themselves. I love getting cards like this, but I like it more when a person takes the time to write me a note in addition to the words on the card. There’s just something about handwritten words that feel more meaningful to me.

The “Legacy” Letter

They might not be your favorite, but these are important letters, written to be given when the writer passes away, and they often contain meaningful and heartfelt words that the writer wanted to say to the recipient. These are often the last words the writer will convey to the recipient.

When my mom passed away, the morning of her funeral, my dad came into my room and gave me an envelope with a letter my mom had written to me. I can’t begin to tell you how much this meant to me, and how special it was. While I was sad to think my Mom thought about her death enough to write this letter, it was an incredible gift.

I encourage anyone who is remotely interested in saying something to their loved ones, upon their death, to take the time to think through what they want to say and do it. Don’t wait or get freaked out because you don’t want to think about your death. Make it less about you, and more about what you want to say to the people who will be left behind when you pass away. Write words to your loved ones that will wrap them in your love and remind them how much you cherished them.

The letters taught me there is power in the written word, both in writing it and receiving it. For a letter writer, it feels good to sort through your thoughts about the recipient. For a recipient, it is good to know that someone cared enough about you to share their thoughts and feelings with you.

Though the convenience of technology has decreased the number of letters being sent, maybe after reading about my experience, you will feel inspired to write a “real” letter. While I love texting and sending emails just as much as the next girl, I make sure to take the time to tell the people I love how I feel, through the hand written word. The most important thing is to find a way to tell the people you care about how much they mean to you, in whatever way works best for you.

DARA KURTZ, after being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of forty-two, left her twenty-year career as a personal banker and financial advisor to focus on writing, speaking, and podcasting. Today her personal blog, Crazy Perfect Life (, reaches over 180,000 followers. Dara’s recent book, I am My Mother’s Daughter: Wisdom on Life, Loss, and Love, is all about the connection between mothers and daughters from one generation to the next. Dara’s goal is to use her life experiences to help people strengthen their relationships and create more happiness and joy in their everyday lives. Receive 5 free downloadable gifts, including a Sharing Journal and a Mother Child Journal, when you order the book at:

You can follow Dara on social media and her podcast:

Social Media: Facebook: @crazyperfectlife, Instagram: @crazyperflife, Twitter: @crazyperflife

Podcast: Thrive: The Podcast with Garth and Dara.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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