I write letters to seriously ill children to put a smile on their face

Ever since I was nine, I’ve loved writing letters to friends and family all over the world, from New Zealand to Cape Verde.

Back in 2009, I was keen to start volunteering but found it difficult to fit most opportunities into my busy week. Then, I came across Post Pals, a UK charity encouraging people to contact seriously and terminally ill children – or their siblings – simply to brighten their day. 

I was thrilled I could give something back while also doing something I love, writing, without having to commit too much time.

So, I looked on the Post Pals website and chose a child to write to – and I have never stopped since.

Each child has a profile with a forwarding address – it’s easy to search the site for a kid who has an interest you could chat to them about. 

For example, I like finding boys and girls who love wildlife as it is easy to talk about the nature I have seen, like hedgehogs in the garden or share an interesting animal fact – or discuss their favourite dog breeds.

There are currently over 40 children on the Post Pals website with a range of illnesses such as cystic fibrosis or cancer.

I’m aware that hospital appointments can be hard, my son has many due to his special needs – autism and severe allergies – and these children usually have many more concerns than my boy. It makes me feel appreciative of the life we have and more determined to ease their struggles.

It is great to help people I can relate to and I enjoy the warm feeling it gives me – knowing a child will open a letter with a funny fact or joke and grin even though they are going through so much. I love to receive post and I don’t have their health issues. If I get a response, it is a bonus!

The first reply I ever had was from nine-year-old girl Maria*. She was very unwell with cystic fibrosis and when I read her profile with her love for all things girly, I was drawn to write to her.

It was strange at first, feeling unsure what to jot down, but I just imagined talking to a friend’s daughter of a similar age. I shared a little about myself, the area I live in, and what my son had been up to recently.

I had sent her several letters when I received a wonderful note back. She had appreciated my words and asked what I thought about her handwriting – she had inked every word of the letter in a different colour.

It made me chuckle as I used to do the same thing – I told her I was very impressed with her rainbow pen skills.

I was touched that despite taking so many medicines every day, doing therapies, attending appointments and attending school, Maria had chosen to contact me. 

Her profile also mentioned her brother Peter*, a couple of years younger. I began corresponding with him too, and he confided that he found Maria’s illness and frequent hospital trips tough to deal with.

Generally though, we just talked about upbeat things, it is nice to be part of the fun bit in a child’s life where they have a chance to relax and be happy.

Maria sadly passed away in May 2011, aged 10 – I was really shocked as she had seemed so well in her letters – finding out online was tough, too, so I was keen to keep writing to her brother.

He needed support and reasons to smile even more. Including nice memories of Maria, making sure to not forget her, felt important as well as discussing ordinary things. He is very keen on football so I found myself researching more about the latest transfers; something I had previously been clueless about!

I am still in touch with the family, Peter is a similar age to my son so I can imagine how he might be feeling.

It is tough on the siblings of poorly children. Until I discovered Post Pals I had not considered how hard it would be having a brother or sister who is in and out of hospital, frequently having a parent away from home or being sent to stay with relatives for up to weeks on end.

These are just some of the difficulties these children navigate and it’s become important to me to support them in any way I can. They teach me about what I should be grateful for each day.

Sometimes I send dozens of letters every month, other months I only have chance to send one. It suits my lifestyle as a working mum; I am a blogger and often operate at strange hours so it perfectly fits around my schedule.

Children are usually busy and you are warned not to expect replies as some never respond, or are unable to, but I found myself looking forward to the occasional letter or Christmas card from a kid – it really cheers me up when I see an envelope in adorable childish scrawl appear on the doormat.

If you have a spare five minutes and a stamp then writing to sick children or their siblings through Postpals is one of the best things you can do. The pride I get from it is amazing, knowing I have helped a child facing a tough time. 

It could arrive on a morning they have had another blood test or therapy due, have found they cannot go on a school trip with their friends or another operation’s arranged. 

I do try to pen long letters but shorter notes or postcards are ideal too – those few minutes it’s no effort to spare could really make their day.

It’s easy, you can dash off a note while sipping your morning cup of coffee or while waiting for the bath to run. I find sharing a little kindness is a lovely addition to my routine.

I have encouraged many friends and family members to join Post Pals and not one has regretted it – it becomes quite addictive, in a good way, sending a little bit of joy to a child in need.

Often, I am asked if it is depressing corresponding with children who are seriously or terminally ill but actually, I do not find that at all.

Imagine if you were at a hospital and a child who was seriously ill grinned at you, you would naturally smile back, wouldn’t you? Talking to them brings them happiness and you do not need to mention their illness at all. 

Send a joke, talk about your pets or tell them about your favourite faces on the latest reality TV show, I promise they will love it – and so will you!

To find out more visit the Post Pals website here. You can find Jen’s website here.

*Maria and Peter are false names.

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Volunteers’ Week takes place 1-7 June and highlights the amazing ways people can give back and help others. To get involved click here. 

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