Are you mourning from a recent loss?
Having difficulty moving on after the death of a loved one?
Would you like advice or help in dealing with the bereavement process?
Do you want to know how to write a letter to a lost loved one? If you have lost a loved one recently or many years ago, you are going through your own grieving process. Your grief is unique, and it doesn’t stop. It may give way to more positive thoughts and feelings and hope for the future, but it never goes away entirely. Often grief pops up when you least expect it: you hear a song while driving, see someone at a store that reminds you a little of your loved one or you hear someone say something that they used to say. That’s normal.
Grief is also unique to each person and the situation. You may grieve differently at different times in your life. Individual people may grieve differently for the same person. And you may also grieve in a different way at the loss of your grandmother than the loss of your spouse or child.
Mourning Rituals May Help the Grieving Process
What are rituals? According to Merriam-Webster, a ritual is a ceremonial act, actions or series of acts repeated in a set precise manner according to religious law, social custom or normal protocol.
Since the beginning of time, people have created mourning rituals for the death of a loved one or community member. Such rites can be rooted in culture, religion or in families. Rituals or traditions can include elaborate funerals, ceremonies, and procedures for handling the deceased’s body. Traditions can also be simpler, such as planting a tree or holding a memorial ceremony. Some rituals may require the entire community to participate, while other rituals and funeral rites can take place with a few close family members or friends.
Rituals can be carried out as a group or as an individual. There may not be any specific rules. Many times, we think of death rituals as the things we do in public or with other family members to commemorate the loss of a loved one. However, the most important rituals surrounding death may be the things we do within our own hearts to heal from the death of a family member, friend or community member. Expressive writing can be one such ritual during a difficult time.
How Writing Helps You Heal
Many grieving people try writing as an outlet to express their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Writing is a powerful tool that has many physical and emotional benefits, especially when dealing with loss. Writing or journaling can provide focus, an outlet for both positive and negative emotions, and a way to let bottled-up thoughts and feelings loose. Writing has also been known to help in conjunction with other therapy for many emotional conditions: grief, anxiety, depression, adjustment disorders, low self-esteem, couple and relationship issues, addictions, mental illness, eating disorders, traumatic events, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I think writing really helps you heal yourself. I think if you write long enough, you will be a healthy person. That is, if you write what you need to write, as opposed to what will make money, or what will make fame.”
Some people have said that writing through their grief was the only way they coped. You don’t have to be a great writer or a published writer. And no one needs to see what you write. When you use expressive writing as a way to work through your grief, loss, and emotions, it can be a therapy that is for your eyes only.
While it’s true that you may feel pain or sadness immediately after writing about your grief, there are definite, recorded long-term health and mental health benefits associated with the writing process. Studies have shown that after only 15 minutes of journal writing daily for four consecutive days, people have benefitted mentally from the outlet of emotions as well as physically by experiencing a higher-functioning immune system.
Writing can take many forms, depending on the individual:
- Handwritten letter
- Therapeutic journaling
- Story writing
- Poetry writing
- And more!
If writing is not for you, you are not alone. You many not feel comfortable expressing yourself in words. If that is the case, you want to experiment with other therapeutic methods of expression: art, music, drawing, singing, painting, playing a musical instrument, pottery, woodworking, knitting, crafting, photography, etc. These expressive and creative techniques can offer the same wellness benefits as writing.
Writing a Letter to a Lost Loved One
Wondering how to start a letter to someone who has passed away? It can be difficult to know where to begin. And a blank page or blank screen can feel daunting. The good news is that there is no right or wrong. There are no rules, especially if you don’t plan on showing or reading your writing to anyone. It’s more important to allow yourself to be openly expressive. Don’t hold back and don’t edit yourself as you write. Take the time to truly go deep and explore your feelings. Scratching the surface of your emotional state may help you initially, but you’ll need to do better than that if you want to truly heal.
Here are some good first lines to start a letter to your deceased loved one.
- As I grieve for you, I feel…
- When you died, I had to…
- In your last years of life…
- When you were alive…
- I want you to know…
- Looking back now…
- You were…
- This year has been so hard for me…
- Somehow you still influence my life…
Of course, there are an infinite number of ways you can begin your letter. But if you are struggling for those first words, try the option above that feels most natural to you. You can also purchase a book of writing prompts where you will find more ideas to start your letter.
What to Include in Your Letter to a Loved One
You may be wondering what to include in your message—and what not to include—in a letter to your loved one. You can tell the person things you wish you’d said or done when they were still alive. You can tell your loved one some of the highlights of your life since they passed away. Truly, you can tell them whatever you want… whatever comes to mind as you are writing.
Be sad. Be joyful. Be funny. Feel free to express any emotions that you feel. Are you angry that the deceased ‘left’ you? That’s a normal emotion too. Let it out.
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
~ Anne Lamott
Here are some good things to include in your letter to your lost loved one.
- Happy memories
- Funny moments
- Words of advice
- How they changed your life
- The influence they had on you
- How they helped you in a tough situation
- Difficult times that created growth
- Life lessons
- Things you wish you’d said or did (any regrets)
- Anything you feel guilty about
- A secret
- Things that have happened since they passed away
- What they meant to you
- Things you won’t forget
When writing your letter to your loved one, we at Lastly.com encourage you to not leave anything out. Pretend that your loved one is sitting with you and you are talking to them. Be genuine. The best thing you can do for yourself is to unmask any hurt or pain you are enduring. Don’t tiptoe around your emotions, and don’t leave out any details—even if they are painful or embarrassing. This letter writing is meant to be therapeutic for you. You won’t benefit from sugar coating or ignoring a subject matter. So, let loose!
Adapting Your Letter for Other Uses
You may choose to write a letter (or more than one letter) to your loved one for your own healing and peace of mind. However, you may also want to consider adapting your letter to share for other purposes. You may want to share your letter at your loved one’s funeral as the eulogy or other spoken part, as part of the obituary, at a celebration of life or for another rite or ritual. You can also share it as part of a condolence letter or in a sympathy card. It’s your choice whether you keep the letter private or share it with others.
When adapting your letter, consider editing the content to honor the memory of your loved one. Of course, you’ll want to leave out anything that is private or personal to you. In addition, if there is something private or potentially embarrassing that your loved one may not want revealed, you may want to leave that out of any public reading or publishing of your letter.
Bringing Comfort to Others
Your letter can bring comfort to family members, friends, and others who are grieving your lost loved one alongside you. Losing a member of your family can upset the family dynamics. And every family member is probably expressing their own personal grief in different ways, at different times, and in different stages. There have been many studies about the stages of grief. Some say there are five stages, and some say there are seven or more. The stages of grief can include the following emotions.
No matter how the stages of grief are classified, one thing is agreed upon: that each person may go through all stages, skip some altogether or spend a greater amount of time in one stage or another as they heal after a death. It’s important not to rush through grief or to deliberately skip or avoid one of the grief processes. You do yourself no favors by doing so.
“Grief is never something you get over. You don't wake up one morning and say, 'I've conquered that; now I'm moving on.' It's something that walks beside you every day. And if you can learn how to manage it and honour the person that you miss, you can take something that is incredibly sad and have some form of positivity.”
~ Terri Irwin
Sharing your writing can help other family members, grieving children, and friends to cope with their own grief and express sympathy. You may remind them of a memory they had forgotten. You may touch on an emotion that they are currently feeling or have already felt. Your expressive writing can help others to know that they are not alone in their loss. And you may even inspire someone else to do their own therapeutic writing, whether it’s a handwritten note to your lost loved one or using another form of writing or artistic means of expression.
If you are looking for other ways to help you through the grieving process, consider talking about your grief with others, taking time for yourself to relax and care for yourself, and seeking grief counseling. And know that although you carry your grief with you in different ways over time, you are allowed to be happy. You can smile, and you can laugh. Being joyful is never a betrayal of your loved one. They have lived their life, and they would want you to live yours as well.