What would you do if a complete stranger handed you an envelope with a love note written inside?
Nowadays, love notes are typed up, often in the form of DMs, and decorated with emojis to express emotions and capture attention. But Hyong Yi wasn’t looking for attention, much less, a viral movement with a hashtag to accompany it, when he started 100 Love Notes. Yi’s notes weren’t directed to someone he could physically give his messages to. They were letters draped in love, covering 15-year-old journey between him and his deceased wife, Catherine Zanga, who passed away from ovarian cancer one year ago, last week (Nov. 20).
Many of us are familiar with the dread that comes with the anniversary of a loved one’s death, a feeling wrapped in anxiety and coping mechanisms that we hope comfort us throughout the day. Hyong Yi’s emotions were no different than the rest of us:
“After the funeral, my initial plan was to curl up, stay in bed, and wallow in grief for as long as possible. But having children who need care and are legally required to go to school forces you to get up in the morning. In retrospect, this was probably for the best.
The most difficult, but rewarding, part of the past year has been to try and define a life worthy of Catherine, but without Catherine. What is a life well lived? My conclusion a life filled with love. This, Catherine taught me.
In return, I want to honor her love.”
It’s a normal reaction for someone experiencing a recent death of a loved one and shows the power of being a parent and having little people to live for, so Yi wanted the first anniversary of his late wife’s death to be one of remembrance. What he did next was a true testament to love and a reminder than it always transcends time and space.
Using actual conversations the couple had, Yi dedicated an entire month and a half to revisiting old memories to create 100 love letters–a public timeline exposing their life together, even up until the moment Catherine passed away. He shared them with friends who believed he should share their love story and even helped him create 100lovenotes.com.
The site’s introduction prepares you for the tearful expedition that’ll ensue after unraveling all 100 notes.
These 100 Love Notes are a monument to a love that lived for fifteen years and still echoes daily. I encourage you to take a few minutes and share in the joys and sorrows of love. At the end, thinking about the love in your life, I invite you to share your love story and express your love.
Live fiercely. Love completely.
The first 60 notes reveals tidbits of Yi and Zanga’s life, with the widower’s words documented in print and his wife’s accounted for in calligraphy. From their dating days where Yi wooed his future wife with origami, to falling into a long distance relationship and glimpses into the newlywed and parenthood, it’s easy to get sucked into their 15-year adventure.
Notes 61-90 go into Catherine’s fight with cancer and photos of her shoulder-length hair chopped off into a shorter ‘do is where it gets painfully heartbreaking. The final 10 notes include posthumous thoughts from Catherine and her husband coping the best way he knows how.
And with all 100 love notes, Yi and his children, 7-year-old Alex and 10-year-old Anna, bravely walked the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina to hand them out to strangers they’ll probably never see again on the anniversary of Catherine’s death. The family encourages those receiving the notes to give them to their loved ones and includes a blank card in hopes they too can continue to spread the message of love. “I want people to take a minute and reflect on that and take time to acknowledge those important in your life,” Yi says.
“When I did this, it was not planned as a campaign or a mass movement. I didn’t start this thinking, ‘What can I do to be a viral sensation?’ I did this to honor a woman. What I wouldn’t give to have one more minute, even a minute, to talk, hold hands with Catherine.”
He tells People that his wife didn’t want to be forgotten, as said in one of the final notes. “Writing the notes made me wish I’d done them while she was alive, but this will live forever."
He also added in a personal note on his Facebook page:
While it’s too late for me, it may not be for you.
In daily life, we get so busy that we often forget to express our love for one another. We assume our loved ones will always be there. Today, I invite you to take a moment to honor the loves in your life. Let’s remind ourselves what’s most important in life – sharing our love with one another. Please join me in writing a love note or sharing an expression of love (ex – chalk art, post-it note, skywritten note, whatever) with someone you love and share it on social media with the hashtag #100LoveNotes.
Yi is turning his viral project into a book as he and his children continue to honor Catherine and promote the importance of telling someone you love them before it’s too late.
Find Hyong Yi’s heartbreakingly beautiful 100 love notes to his wife here (having your Kleenex on deck is necessary!)