Art of Letter Writing – Family, Love, Forgiveness, Perspective – Meaning of Life – by DyAnna Grondahl. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

Art of Letter Writing – Family, Love, Forgiveness, Perspective – Meaning of Life – by DyAnna Grondahl. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

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My family is one which is full of tension, chaos, drama, and love – I’m sure many can relate. Specifically, pre-2015 the point of contention was drawn toward my mother’s step mother, Jean. I am free from many of the details, and I don’t feel any need to get acquainted with them. My grandma Diane, the family matriarch, baker-gardener extraordinaire had died prior to my birth, leaving our family without its grounding for a period of time. It hit everyone hard – she was much beloved. My grandma Jean and papa Curt married in 1998, and the re-marriage was controversial to many members of my family. The marriage and the ensuing events sparked tensions which stayed with me until Curt’s death in 2015. After he died, tensions continued to contaminate the funeral arrangements. Little did we know, after the funeral was over, and the familiar faces returned to their homes, my family entered a period of intervention and reflection. It is in this time which we began to recognize the extremely important role Jean played in our lives. We realized very soon after the funeral, that, without Jean, Curt would not have lived nearly as long as he did.

I spent most of my grieving over my grandpa Curt in the stage of anger. I was livid over the uneven distribution of childhood among my siblings and I. Specifically, it seemed, they all had so many memories of going to Grandma and Grandpa’s. I, at least at the top of my head, had fewer than I could count on my hand. The reason I chose not to engage in the familial drama is because it has already robbed me of enough experience of which it was not deserving. In sorting out my anger in this grief, I sought something that could make up for the years of missing out.

One evening, sitting in my college dorm room, under the fluorescent lights, in a chair that kept my roommate up with its endless creaks, I slid my biology book over, and instead wrote a letter in my notebook. I had been envious of my hall-mates who had grandparents who were the more typical pillars of the family. It wasn’t fair that I didn’t get to experience grandparents like my hall-mates, or, frankly, my siblings did. Then, in a moment, I realized how ridiculous my envy was, because I had someone up north who had spent years with the family, who wanted to be that part of the family. So, I decided that I was going to personally invite her in. I wrote her a letter. I wrote about school, I wrote about Duluth, and I asked about my hometown of Roseau. Writing felt good. Specifically, writing Jean felt good. In a way, it was like I had a do-over. I was lucky enough to get to have a grandparent again, and I wasn’t going to let it get messed up this time. I stamped the letter with one of the 45 cent American flags I stole from my mom’s office before I left home. I walked to the campus post office right then and dropped it in golden mail slot. Just days later, enclosed in a hug and an envelope, I received a letter in return.

Jean and I have continued exchanging letters consistently in the four years since. I have moved a half a dozen times, and yet she never misses a beat. I still talk about school, even though it’s over, I still ask about goings-on in Roseau, and I am still so grateful to have her as my grandparent. More recently, Jean had to move from the home she and Curt shared for years. The bittersweet ending was well-captured in our spring and early-summer letters. My most recent letter from Jean, dated 7-19-19, contained her warmth and excitement toward her new home. “Dear DyAnna, today I got my 1st letter from you in my new home. What fun! I was hoping you would continue to write after we were both “settled in.” I love your letters.”

DyAnna serves as a senior editor for NSR.

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Filed under DyAnna Grondahl, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

26 responses to “Art of Letter Writing – Family, Love, Forgiveness, Perspective – Meaning of Life – by DyAnna Grondahl. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

    • Rylee Whitney

      I was so moved by your article, it actually gave me goosebumps. I as well come from a family of disfunction I guess you could say. My grandpa Dan died when I was 3 years old. He was the exceptional kind of grandpa that everyone deserves to have. My other grandpa has never been a part of my life. He moved away before I was even born. I am fortunate enough to have both of my grandmothers, but I do hold some resent to the grandpa that left his family behind. I have a step grandpa that came in and took over though, whom I will forever be grateful for. Both of my siblings are my half siblings. We have either a different mom or dad. It is an extremely complicated and long story, but even though some of family members share no blood relation to me, they are still my family through thick and thin. I am a strong believer that blood does not determine family, it is who is there for you no matter what. I admire that you write letters to Jean. I am sure she holds your letters so close to her heart, as you do with her letters. Your article sparked my interest to begin writing letters to some of my family members. It is so under appreciated how great it is to receive a hand written letter by surprise in the mail. I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed your article, but I think you get my point. Thank you so much for opening my eyes to the art of letter writing. Thank you for sharing your personal experience. This was a great read that really got me thinking. I wish you the best, truly.

      • dyannagrondahl


        Thank you so much for your heartfelt reply. I appreciate your vulnerability and willingness to share your experience. I think it would be absolutely lovely for you to write letters to your loved-ones as well. It really creates a special bond between Jean and I that is absolutely priceless.


    • Katrina Lund

      This article was so incredibly sweet. I would be lying if I said I did not get a tad watery eyed at your sentiments. I often feel that I had missed out on such an integral part of family affairs from my father’s side, as both his parents passed unexpectedly before my birth. Your determination to engage and forge a relationship you had been longing for with someone so equally longing for a familial tie is refreshing. The fact that you took it and turned it into something tangible, that you can hold, is extremely lovely to me. Thank you for sharing this.

      • dyannagrondahl


        Thank you for your kind comment. I am sorry your father’s parents passed prior to your birth, and I empathize with that reality.

        Thank you for sharing,

    • Toni Bishop

      Thank you so much for your article and being able to share your story with us. I think writing letters is an amazing thing. I connect with you as well right now. I have been writing one of my family members who lives in the cities and enjoys receiving letters more than he enjoys getting text messages and calls. I feel as if a letter is a little bit more personal than a text message. It was our source of communication not too long ago. I think this is an interesting tradition to keep a live to be able to communicate in the same was as our ancestors did. Writing letters give more meaning because you have to go out of your way to stay in touch this way.
      Thank you,

      Toni Bishop

      • dyannagrondahl


        I am so appreciative that you also write letters to family! There is truly something extra special about a handwritten note over a text message. To me, it becomes more like a journal entry when I am hand-writing a letter. I delve into details and stories that flow organically. Rather, a text is more utilitarian and transactional.

        Thank you for sharing!

  1. Shelby Olson

    I really enjoyed reading your article! I’m glad you were able to invite in your grandma Jean despite past familial tension. Your situation reminded me a lot of my aunt Tracy who often babysat my sisters and I when we were growing up. At some point she fell out of communication with my family and my sisters and I never really knew why. A few years after this had happened, my older sister wrote her a letter in an attempt to rebuild the relationship she once had with us. Overall, I think that it’s amazing to see how beneficial a letter can be especially with how personal someone can make it. It also seems like a perfect way to reach out to people since the worst that could happen is that you don’t get a response. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. jane kariuki

    This is such a beautiful article, may be the idea of grandparents or the deep beauty of writing letters. Social media and more or so electronics have made us forget the beauty and calmness that comes with reading and writing letters. It is compelling that you choose to seek out the relationship with Jean. Thus what enhances the beauty of letter writing is the fact that it is being written between loved ones. In its own way, it makes it genuine. What started as a hard decision seems to have blossomed into a beautiful relationship. I hope your relationship continues and you get to experience the feelings of a grandparent.

  3. Elijah Ortega

    Hello Dyanna,
    This was such a fun article to read. I too know the feeling of not being close with ones grandparents or getting to experience what the older siblings had the joy of getting to experience. I have never met one of my grandfathers who seemed to hold my brothers quite near to his heart, and I always felt put off and jealous by this. To see that you finally gained this connection was something really heart warming to read and I thank you for sharing this. The joy you bring into Jeans heart and your own by doing this act is wonderful and something that should be cherished. Thank you so much for sharing thisI thoroughly enjoyed reading this.
    Elijah Ortega-Trimble

  4. Anna Becker

    I cannot express how this article made me feel in a short amount of words. I was moved emotionally and my eyes were opened to realizing the things that I should be grateful for, that have been shoved under-the-carpet for so long.
    Growing up, I was without one set of grandparents, as my mother’s parents both passed before I was born. I was raised with grandparent-figures that quickly made home in my heart. However, large waves rocking the ship that was my family caused a lot of distress and loss of connection to my father’s side of the family. I rarely visited his parents and willingly chose to focus my attention on my grandparent-figures rather than the ones I had connected by blood. My world got turned upside down as my grandfather-figure passed away this past year; leaving me longing for the connection that we had. I still to this day felt a vast sense of emptiness in my heart. I can confidently say that you, Dyanna, and this article have influenced me to reach out to my grandparents, to experience what it is like to build that connection again.
    As my grandfather-figure always said, “geronimo;” jump in and seize the opportunity that you have because you never know where it may lead.
    Thank you Dyanna, you are a blessing.
    Anna Becker

  5. Emily Knoer


    This article was beautiful. Your story felt very personal and it was a story very familiar to mine. Going into my freshman year of college I only had my grandma left for grandparents. My grandma was the sweetest woman I knew and she would send me and all of my cousins each a short letter in the mail every week once we started college. I did not get much mail so those letters meant so much to me, that I kept every single one of them. Unfortunately, February of that year my grandma got sick and passed away, but I could not tell you how grateful I am to have kept her letters. However, being the youngest cousin, I have similar feelings to you about feeling rob of having grandparents because they all received letters from her for years and I only got a few short months of them. However, that slight resentment is nothing in comparison to the memories I have with my grandparents and the letters I kept. I resonate very strongly to your article and am so glad you still have Jean in your life to write letters to. There’s something about receiving physical mail from a loved one that technology just cannot match and I am grateful we both have experienced that feeling.

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful story!
    – Emily

  6. Itzayan Rocha


    I love your writing. I love the way you’ve told the story in which I can create a small movie in my head, but above all, I love what you wrote. Not too long ago, a little over a month, I lost my grandma in Mexico. I could also relate to the fact that while I was there through it all, I felt angry at the fact that my cousins living in Mexico had the opportunity to see her every single day of their lives. I felt like I had missed out, and that I had not shared enough memories with her. I felt like my grief was not valid due to the lack of time we had spent together. I’ve realized that that’s not the case at all. I loved her. Although we were separated by a border, we were never truly separated. And I am just so grateful that I was there on her last day to share it with her, and make sure she knew that I loved her.


  7. Elizabeth Mirkin

    This is such a sweet and heartwarming article. I resonate with your story in a lot of ways. My grandfather died weeks before I was born and I grew up only knowing the stories told of him, but also craving to have been able to get to know him myself. My other set of grandparents live half way across the world and I have only seen them a handful of times in my life. I love that you communicate with your grandmother through letters, when we live in a society that is using our technology for almost everything. Your story is inspiring and makes me want to reach out to the grandparents I still have left, even though they live far away.

  8. Angela Pecarina

    DyAnna, I knew instantly I can relate to you. This article made me feel all warm inside and that I am not alone and you are not either. For me, growing up I have few memories of my grandma’s because I was a little girl when they passed away. My grandpa’s I never met. Every single one of my friends growing up and now have amazing connections with their grandparents and I do not. That broke my heart all the time. I always begged for them to come back and just for one minute with them. I know your pain. It does not seem fair. I thought this was life until a year ago. My family did one of those Ancestry DNA kits to find family members you may not be in contact with. What do you know, my dad found his blood father and my grandpa. He is 93 years old and a former Dallas and Packers football player. He also played for Clemson in college. I got to meet him in Jan. 2019 and going again next month. My heart has yearned for that ever since I was little. To give my grandpa a hug. I resemble him and his sister, my great aunt. I do not know why stuff happens the way it does, but just like you have Jean and I found my grandpa, hold on and do not ever let go. My best wishes to you DyAnna and thank you for your story.

  9. Gabrielle Trelstad


    This is such a beautifully told story.

    It is so nice that you were able to develop a relationship with your grandma Jean in spite of the issues that existed in the past with your family and Jean. It is heartwarming to read about how you and Jean have exchanged letters and continue to exchange letters.

    Your story really helps illustrate how people can choose to let our differences keep us from one another or we can choose to put differences aside and embrace one another.

    Thank you for sharing your story!


  10. Tamer Mische-Richter

    Your article warmed my heart this evening. Handwriting letters is something that I think is being lost in today’s society. I have three grandparents who are still alive today, however I do not necessarily feel as though I have a great connection to them as my family is so large. This may be my ticket to favoritism though… In reality, this is such a valuable skill that I may have to take up writing my grandparents in a way that opens the door to having a written account of their life experiences. We hear so many of them when we visit or through other family members, but rarely do we have it documented.

  11. Jake Foster

    Hi DyAnna,
    Thanks for writing this and sharing your story. Writing handwritten letters seems to be a thing lost to history and as a nostalgic person I appreciate that someone still does it. I too lost some family at a young age and I related very much with your experience. It’s hard to not feel like I’ve lost so much time with these people and wasted what time I did have. But stories like yours remind me that small gestures go a long way. At least we can be content in the knowledge that we made them feel loved.

  12. Karl

    Thank you so much for sharing about your family! Letter writing is a lost art. I still write letters to my grandmother in Jamaica and this is our primary form of communication. Writing letters is a incredible feeling and I wish people did more of it.

  13. Dan Salutz

    I found your article very relatable, like most people I am no stranger to family drama. When I was in 7th grade my great aunt Lou passed away and my great uncle Ed started dating another woman not long after which caused a lot of tension in my extended family. My grandparents had their own desputes about the situation arguing about whether it was right or wrong for my great uncle to date someone so soon after losing his wife. I believe however that when you lose someone you love it creates a hole in your life and for some people the only way to fill that whole is with another person, that I believe was the case with my great uncle.

  14. Madina Tall

    Dear DyAnna,
    This is such a heartwarming article. Growing up I have always said that I love words and get excited when they connect so flawlessly. Words alone have a way of expressing details that go deeper than their meaning. However, a group of words whether it be in a science article or a letter can have such a powerful effect on bridging the gap between people. The best feature of the letter-writing that you described is how personal it is. I love that it is different. Different anticipation than waiting for a text, a different feeling than reading it on a screen, a different love.
    Thank you for bringing us back to down to Earth with this piece.

  15. Audrey Tusken

    Dear DyAnna, this is a beautiful story! As someone who was fortunate enough to grow up with very involved grandparents, I can’t begin to understand your anger and jealousy. However, to hear that you decided to pursue a relationship with your grandma Jean is so encouraging. I can’t explain it well, but your story somehow gives me hope for all of humanity. Hope that as a collective whole, we can begin to see one another more frequently through a lens of love and acceptance rather than through one of hatred and spite. The connections we crave are far more powerful than the walls we want to build, and I am so glad you have made a connection. I hope your exchanges with Jean last for years to come!

  16. Ben Burner

    Dear DyAnna,
    This article was very beautiful and heartwarming. We take for granted our grandparents everyday and how much they do for us. It was nice that you could overcome your families disagreement with Jean. You being younger than the rest of the family really shows now strong you are for going against what the rest of your family thought. I am sure Jean really appreciated you writing her and felt loved. When people get older they do not have as much going on in their life and when she got letters from you it gave her something to do. It was a good thing you started writing Jean, it made both of you happier I am sure. Thank you for this great article it is very inspiring. We all need to be more brave and reach out to the important people in our lives.


  17. Sebrin Ahmed

    Dear Dyanna,

    In just a couple of paragraphs, I and I am sure many others were able to connect with you and feel what you went through. Thank you for your openness and being candor. We all have different ways of grieving and filling that in that void we often miss, I’m glad you found yours and were able to establish that bond with Jean.
    For me, it was the lack of having my aunts, although alive they were almost never involved in my life. I remember feeling left out from my other cousins of which they were involved with and I somehow bottled all of that in with anger and developed hatred towards them. As a child, that goes a long way as I still feel some type of animosity towards them. Now that I am grown and mature, I am able to work on seeing past that and not judging my self worth based on how others perceive me.

  18. hannah


    I really love your article, how you realized that you were not alone and took the initiative to invite someone in. I too grew up without any grandparents, I decided work at a nursing home. Working there I realized how much people take their grandparents for granted. My residents are full of sentimental advice and stories waiting to be passed on and I am lucky enough to listen. Just thinking about the smile on Jean’s face when she opens up your letters warms my heart.
    Thank you for your story!

  19. Katie Peterson

    I love the idea of sharing letters with a loved one. I can’t remember the last time I wrote an actual letter and sent it to someone. It sounds like your relationship with Jean is a very special one! I have one grandparent still living, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve tried to make more of an effort to call my grandma and hear from her myself instead of relying on my parents to relay information between us. She lives several hours away, so I only see her a few times a year. But that makes our calls even more special. Thank you for sharing this wonderful article!

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