She Pushed the Envelope of Compassion

Every week, Linda Bremner sends a thousand letters to children she doesn't even know. Some parents might not like their children getting letters from a stranger. But not these moms and dads. They write back to thank her-and so do the parents. Linda's letters give their kids hope, keep them alive a little longer, or just brighten their days when they see the postal carrier coming up the walk with the day's mail.

That's how it started-with the daily mail. In November 1980, Linda's eight-year-old son, Andy, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. After he returned home from his first hospital stay, he was welcomed with dozens of cards and letters from friends and relatives. "No matter how bad he felt before the mailman arrived," Linda remembered, "he always felt better afterward."

Inevitably, however, the flood of cards and letters tapered off. So did Andy's cheerful spirit. Concerned, Linda mailed him a note she wrote herself and signed it "Your secret pal." Andy perked up. After that, Linda never let a day go by without putting another cheerful message in the mail for her little boy.

After sending Andy letters for nearly a month, Linda found him one day drawing a picture of two unicorns. It was for his "secret pal," he said. After putting Andy to bed that night, Linda picked up the drawing. At the bottom, he had written "P.S. Mom, I love you."

He had known all along who was sending him the letters! But that didn't matter-what mattered was that they made him happy and lifted his spirits. Andy's precious life ended less than four years later; he died on August 31, 1984.

"Although I had two other wonderful children," Linda remembered, "the grief and pain of losing Andy was unbearable. I felt my life was over because his was over." Sorting through her son's belongings, she found a shoebox in his closet. Inside the box was his address book listing all the friends he'd made at a "cancer camp" not long before he died. The address book gave Linda the idea that Andy would have liked her to be a "secret pal" to his sick friends the way she'd been to him.

She decided to send one card to each child in Andy's book. Before she'd gotten through the list, one twelve-year-old boy wrote to thank her. In his letter he told her, "I didn't think any one knew I was alive." Those words made Linda realize someone else was hurting besides herself. She cried bitterly, not for herself or for Andy this time, but for the lonely, scared child who needed to know someone cared.

Just after responding to that boy's letter, she received a simi­lar note from another child on Andy's list. That was it. She had found her calling, a purpose that gave passion and meaning to her life. She vowed then to write to any child who needed her until they stopped writing her back.

Her cards and letters were brief, positive, and always person­alized. The children responded continually and their parents did too, each thanking her for renewing life in their child. Linda got friends and neighbors to help with her mission, and an organiza­tion of fetter writers began to form. They named their new group Love Letters, Inc.

Together, Linda and her small band of volunteers worked tirelessly to help children beat the odds. Yet Love Letters soon dis­covered a myriad of challenges they were forced to overcome. The demand for their services was great and yet their resources were small. No mailing was complete without concern for where the money for postage or production work would come from. Working out of a temporary, donated space, the group survived from week to week on donations of stamps, money, and office supplies from the community and groups like the Rotary Club and Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Love Letters applied to more than forty corporations for grants and donations. Every application was turned down. Yet Love Letters never missed a mailing. The children meant too much to Linda and her thirty-five volunteers. Somehow people always came through-with a hake sale, a T-shirt sale, or just by reaching into their pockets.

Today, over ten years after Linda wrote her first letter to a child she'd never met, Love Letters, Inc., sends out more than 60,000 pieces of mail a year. The group's resources are still inadequate, but their resolve abounds. Thirty-five volunteers collec­tively contribute 400 hours for each weekly mailing. In addition to sending letters to 1,100 kids every week, it sends an additional 90 to 110 birthday gifts each month. For children going through a particularly difficult period, Love Letters makes sure something arrives in the mail every single day. Every year, Love Letters loses some 200 children who have gotten better or passed away. Sadly, Love Letters always has new names to add to its mailing list.

Linda personally puts in seventy to eighty hours a week to keep Love Letters going. When weariness threatens to overcome her, the telephone rings-it's another child or parent calling to say how important the program is.

"It rejuvenates me," she said, "because I have experienced firsthand the power of a love letter in healing the soul."

As much as she gives, Linda Bremner receives more in return: a reason for living, a vehicle for loving, a sense of purpose.

"I'm doing what I am doing for the rest of my life because it's so important. I've seen a child cry and I've seen a child smile. I like the smiles, and it's really important to me to know that I helped make one." -Linda Bremner

Excerpted from Unstoppable, p, 9-12 (Sourcebooks, $14.95) Copyright 1998 by Cynthia Kersey

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Cynthia Kersey is a nationally-known speaker, columnist and author of the bestseller, "Unstoppable" and upcoming sequel "Unstoppable Women". Cynthia captivates audiences by delivering presentations on how to be unstoppable in their business and life pursuits. To learn more about receiving a FREE daily Unstoppable Insight, joining the FREE "Unstoppable Community" or bringing Cynthia to your next meeting, visit .

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