From the time my kids could pick up a crayon, I have been ridiculously sentimental about everything they have ever penned, from scribbles and stick figures to beautiful poems, stories and sentiments. Consequently, I am overwhelmed and inundated with paper!

Many mommies I know have this little battle each day with the amount of paper that comes in versus the amount they are able to recycle or file away before the next day's backpacks are unzipped and explode onto the kitchen counter tops. While most are practical and discerning, ridding themselves of all but the important pieces, I have a difficult time parting with anything my kids have ever drawn or written.

For years this has plagued me. How could an organized purger like me struggle so to dispose of even the most trivial scraps of paper? It dawned on me recently that handwritten sentiments, in all their simplicity, are amazingly powerful, and my connection and unusual attachment to them is deeply rooted in a loss that will forever color my world.

For 28 years, I have missed my Dad every day. Father's Day has always been particularly empty. He died when I was in high school, cancer quietly and quickly staking its claim on his unsuspecting 38-year-old body, robbing our family and the world of an amazing light. Best known for his hilarious sense of humor and goofy antics, he was kind to all who crossed his path and truly liked by those fortunate enough to know him.

He adored his family, had sun-worn good looks and a soft spot for spaghetti and Elvis. In the numb months that followed his untimely death, most of his belongings were donated or carefully preserved and tucked away. Among the few items that remain are letters he wrote to my mom, sister, brother and me from his hospital bed in his dying days.

I cannot fathom how I would ever express all that I needed to say if I knew I were leaving my kids to go on without me. I can barely complete the thought. I suspect this act gave Dad a measure of comfort and peace, writing what was impossible to speak. As my memories of him fade, his handwritten letter to me is all that I have left of him – a man and a life personified on a piece of notebook paper.

I encourage everyone to tell the people you love how you feel about them. Put it in writing – your beautiful handwriting. Tell them all the things you might find hard to say out loud – your feelings, memories, regrets and dreams. Share how loving them has impacted your life. It doesn't have to be deeply philosophical or the least bit perfect, just you. In this era of texts, tweets, emails, blogs, Facebook and other impersonal electronic communication, your handwritten words will be a timeless memento and beautiful legacy of your life and relationships for generations to come.

This year, I pledge to make peace with all the paper and organize it in some sane fashion, perhaps even toss a little. In honor of Father's Day, I framed Dad's letter so I can read it every day and marvel at the beauty of his penmanship, as well as his feelings and wishes for my life.

What was once too painful to read now graces the top of my dresser as a daily reminder that we are only promised today. I am so grateful to have something as personal and profound as this to cherish and remember.


Melissa Knights Bertrand, of Clarence Center, is director of a nonprofit organization founded in memory of her father