All you need is love: Love note project was life-changing for local author
Encinitas resident Natalie Reilly has published her first book “All Because of a Love Note”, alternatively titled: “How I unwittingly penned my way into the heart of an epic love story while writing thousands of love notes to America’s heroes.” The book is a love note to love notes, telling the story of a simple project she embarked on with her mother who was dying of cancer, as a way to heal their broken hearts.
“It’s all about gratitude and how it saved my life,” said Reilly of the continuing love note project and the book that is available on Amazon, Trove Marketplace in Carlsbad and Bliss 101 in Encinitas.
Reilly is a freelance writer who lived in the Phoenix area for 30 years before moving to Oceanside in 2019 and to Encinitas in 2021. She had written and edited books for others and always wanted to write her own.
Her all-encompassing love story begins with her mother Hope, who she considers the love of her life.
Hope was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and Reilly became her sole caretaker when she moved into her home. During treatment, it was shocking for Reilly to see her mother go from being a very strong person to a shell of herself. When her treatment started, she just seemed to go downhill—she just felt like she couldn’t do it.
On Valentine’s Day in 2016, Reilly was feeling sorry for herself and for her mom, who did not want to get out of bed.
She raided a drawer she had full of blank cards and suggested that they write notes to people. They decided to write to first responders and veterans—Hope always had a great admiration for veterans and the oldest of Natalie’s two sons had been in the Navy and was becoming a police deputy in Texas.
They ended up writing 50 notes and then drove around looking for policemen and firefighters, searching for cars with veteran bumper stickers or people wearing veteran hats, leaving them on car windshields or handing them the notes directly. The response was amazing, for both the touched recipients and for her mother.
“She just lit up immediately. I’ll never forget that she said ‘I don’t even know why I was so worried,’” Reilly said.
Hope passed away in 2017 but the love notes changed the last two years of her life. They continued writing cards together and some days they would get into the car and spend hours driving around looking for heroes. Reilly found that the experience brought them closer together, sitting in coffee shops writing notes, having conversations she isn’t sure they would’ve had otherwise. Having a mission bigger than themselves helped lift their spirits at a scary and difficult time.
Reilly’s son had suggested a Facebook page for the project and a hashtag, a way to share her message and encourage others to write their own notes of gratitude. After she lost her best friend, Reilly said she looked up and found this whole community she had built through the love notes. “It saved me. I was just trying to get her out of the house and it turned around and saved me,” she said.
About four years into her effort, a reporter in Arizona contacted her to write a story. From there, her story was told on national shows like The Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN and the Kelly Clarkson Show. “It felt like I invented electricity and all I’m doing is writing a note,” she laughs.
With the help of her community, in the last six years she has delivered 35,000 notes. The simple, handwritten cards lead to tears, conversations and heartfelt hugs with strangers.
Countless people have said: “You don’t know how much I needed this today”. One veteran recently reached out about a love note she left six years ago outside of a movie theater.
“I was in a terrible place,” they wrote. “Thank you for making me feel appreciated when I was so lost. This helped keep me alive.”
The notes have led to lasting friendships and even love.
Hope had always joked that Reilly needed to find her George Clooney and it turned out that by writing love notes to firefighters and police officers, she did.
She had been invited to a high school football game to speak to the team with local first responders and was introduced to a retired police officer named Chris Hoyer. Reilly edited his book for him and they ended up falling in love. When he moved to California, she happily followed.
“To live at the beach was always the dream for Chris and I,” Reilly said. “I really believe that if you do good and put good into the world, it just comes right back to you. You will find your purpose and place in the world.”
Like she promised her mother, she always keeps cards close to her heart wherever she goes and has handed them out across the country. On airplanes, she even gives cards to the flight crews. A recent effort had people penning cards to cancer patients.
“Especially these days, everybody is so angry. My message is no matter what, a little bit of gratitude goes a long way,” she said. “ Don’t dwell on the negative, find something to do and give back to the world in a way that only you can.”
Reilly had wanted to write the book about her experience but it was sometimes painful going back to that time. As hard as it was, she finished writing it in a year and it felt like a load had somehow lifted. So far the response has been positive and the book has her excited to write her next book, which she plans to title “The Anatomy of a Happy Woman.”
“Natalie’s story and courage are absolutely inspiring and humbling,” read one online book review. “She takes a risk to reach out to strangers and is rewarded tenfold. If we all took the time to write a love note, the world would be a better place.”
One evening walking home from Leucadia Pizza on Moonlight Beach, she told Chris that she had always wished her mom had left her one last note. She had looked everywhere for it and had never found one.
There, in the sand, Hoyer pointed out that the word “Hope” had been written in the sand, surrounded by a heart made of rocks. Reilly said she immediately started crying and it still makes her sob at the thought of it.
“She was my best friend and I really hope that she knows that it all turned out ok. It all worked out,” she said. Although sometimes she felt like her mother worried she hadn’t done enough in life to help others, she knows that Hope has left her legacy.
“One of the reasons I still do it, is that she’s in every note that I write,” Reilly said.
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