Unsent Letters Part 2: Letters to someone who’s passed away

When we are grieving, therapeutic writing can be a wonderful tool to handle the mental stress – just like in other crises. While people we confide in might say “you need to move on, it’s been a while already”, paper is patient. It won’t set you a deadline and won’t complain when you repeat yourself. It won’t interrupt you or try to convince you that other (own?) losses are much worse. It doesn’t act awkward when you completely lose your composure due to grief. I’ll admit, it also won’t wrap you in a comforting hug. But when you just feel like getting rid of some of the weight that’s so heavy on your heart, it is a great idea to grab a pen and paper. Therapeutic writing when grieving can be a relief.

There is a beautiful quote that says, “Grief is just love with nowhere to go”. When a beloved person passes away, we might remain clue- and restless, not knowing what to do. Often, you will catch yourself thinking that you would like to tell stuff to the deceased person, discuss situations with them or ask for their advice.

Sometimes, though, we quarrel with the death of a person because we think there are still things left unsaid. This feeling can turn into regret very quickly, and that’s when it gets really uncomfortable.

It gets even more uncomfortable – almost unbearable – when there is regret attached to the death right from the beginning, for example: Should I have cared or done more? Have I really made the most out of the last time together? Did he or she feel abandoned by me? Thoughts like that can get very heavy. Give a little of that weight to your journal!

Why write a letter?

Of course, you can use therapeutic writing in many different ways when you are grieving, but writing a letter to the person who has passed away is a very profound method:

  • You can approach the deceased person “directly”
  • That way, you feel like you’re not only writing for yourself
  • You can say things that you kept to yourself until that point
  • You can ask for forgiveness

Your own attitude towards death also plays a role, of course. What do you believe in? Heaven and hell? Reincarnation? Something entirely different? Your beliefs determine whether you believe that what you write will reach the recipient in some way. But even if you don’t believe this, journaling when grieving will still offer relief.

Until now, we’ve only discussed the case of a beloved person passing away. But what happens when we lose someone who has had a negative impact on us? Chances are, there are a lot of things left unsaid. Maybe you never really dared to speak up in front of that person? Maybe you want to really break away from that person for good? Draw a line, feel liberated? Writing a letter can also help in this case and might leave you feeling lightened up, even when you know that the person will never read the letter.

How to do it

Use this method of therapeutic writing whenever you miss a beloved person who’s no longer with us; or when you feel that you still haven’t shaken off the negative impact that someone who has passed away has had on you. Try to be alone with that specific person when you sit down to write. Maybe you would like to put up a picture of them while you write or remember them in another way. Start the letter like you would when they were still alive. Then, tell them what you would like to tell, explain why you miss them or why you are now breaking free from their influence for good.

Especially when grieving, we can feel paralyzed. That makes it very hard to write more than “Dear XY”. In this case, you can use the following ten journal prompts:

10 Journal Prompts as inspiration for your letter

  • Describe the person who has passed away. What did they mean to you and what significance did they have in your life?
  • How did you feel when that person passed away?
  • What is different now? What do you miss?
  • Is there something you would like to say to that person?
  • What version of yourself were you when you were with that person?
  • In what situations do you miss that person the most?
  • What do you feel when you remember that person? Are these feelings pleasant or uncomfortable?
  • If they are uncomfortable – can you explain why?
  • Describe your day to that person.
  • Ask that person for advice. Explain why you chose to turn to them for that matter.

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