A Website to Say What You Would Have Said, If Only You Could Have

AA I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER: We meet the 24-year-old creator of the website wouldhavesaid.com.

RS: The premise is simple. People submit letters saying the things they would have said to a person if they had the chance. Jackie Hooper got the idea for the project in March of last year, when actress Natasha Richardson hit her head during a ski lesson and died from a brain injury.

Jackie Hooper

JACKIE HOOPER: "I'm not entirely sure why it affected me in the way that it did. But it brought all of these emotions about how people leave our lives so quickly, and a lot of the times it's very unexpected, and how at those moments I feel like there's so much that a person would want to say to the person who passed away unexpectedly.

"I started locally and I went to retirement homes, jails, schools, and asked them to think of these kinds of situations. I didn't want to limit it to, you know, unexpected deaths because it doesn't always apply to people. But just things, you know, if people left your life, if you lost contact with them, what might you have said to them. Would you like to apologize or thank them for something?"

RS: "What did you find when you went to these places?"

JACKIE HOOPER: "That people had so much to say! You know, when I started, I knew, I felt like it was a good idea and that it would be beneficial for people. But, you know, I didn't know how people would respond, if they would want to share those kinds of personal, deep feelings with some stranger.

"And, you know, a lot of people in the jails wrote about broken relationships they had with their parents, or a wife that they left, and, you know, explain the situation of how they got to jail and how they wish they could done so many things differently so that they didn't end up there.

"And kids, surprisingly, I mean, some people question whether or not they've experienced enough to be able to write these kinds of letters. And, you know, kids write to dads. One little girl wrote to her dad asking him to stop drinking so much and stop having so many different girlfriends. So it's, you know, pretty powerful stuff no matter the age."

AA: "What have you noticed about, or have you noticed, sort of dominant themes that keep coming up over and over again?"

JACKIE HOOPER: "The biggest one  I've noticed -- and I really, I mean there's at least three or four a week that I get that are written to fathers. It's not to parents, it's to fathers, and then just overall to parents, grandparents.

"Lately I've been getting a lot to people, like if they bullied someone in high school and felt really bad about it now. And I really love those kinds of letters because not only does it show that it doesn't have to be someone who passed away, but it shows just the idea of regret and how to these people it feels so fresh in their minds."

AA: "How many letters a day are submitted to your site?"

JACKIE HOOPER: "It definitely varies. If there's, you know, a lot of discussion around it, if there's an article written or something, I can get fifty a day. No matter what happens, I still get a few each day."

RS: "We can see from your website that there's lot of options here, you can submit a letter, you can follow you on Twitter, you can be a fan on Facebook, and a number of other things. so you're using the new media to advance your ideas."

AA: "Yeah, actually, in terms of ages, I'm curious, have you noticed trends in who's submitting, by age group?"

JACKIE HOOPER: "At first it was a lot of middle-aged, older women. But now it's kind of, I think because it's growing on social media-type websites, I'm getting much younger, college-aged submissions."

RS: Jackie Hooper knows that some people may be trying to relieve themselves of guilt over something they said. But she says they are also trying to offer a lesson.

JACKIE HOOPER: "They know that they've said it and that they can't do anything about it, really, you know, if they can't reach the person. But this does help them on a personal level kind of express it and get it out and they really hope that it will help change someone else. Whether they're, you know, being mean to someone or they've said something negative to someone, they just want it to be used as a tool to make people think twice next time."

AA: And has she ever posted her own letters on her site?

JACKIE HOOPER: "Well, I wrote one on the year anniversary of Natasha Richardson's death, kind of to her, saying what great thing has come of such a tragedy."

RS: You can find around 200 letters on wouldhavesaid.com. Jackie Hooper adds another one each day, and has hundreds more submitted on paper for her project.

AA: She has an education degree but isn't sure about a career. She currently works as a law firm receptionist in Portland, Oregon. One goal she is sure of, though, is to publish a book based on some of the letters.

RS: And that's WORDMASTER for this week. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.