Letter Writing: Continuing Conversations

Cruse Scotland volunteer, Mo Szulejewska, describes how letter writing can help to continue a relationship with a loved one who has died.

April 22, 2021

I recently came across the following quote which really resonated with me:

“Death ends a life but not a relationship”.

Such a simple idea and yet one with so much depth and truth to it. Death does not erase shared history or memories; nor does it end a relationship, but change it. My father is no less my father because he is no longer alive. The times we spent together, the things we did together, the conversations we had during his lifetime – these are the elements that shaped our relationship and they live on in my memory.

Sometimes, after someone has died, we find that there are things we still want to say to that person. Perhaps it’s something we never had the chance to tell them during their lifetime. Perhaps it’s something that we have only realised after their death. And in the same way that death does not end a relationship, nor does it wipe out our feelings and emotions towards that person. Indeed, our feelings and emotions are often intensified or thrown into turmoil and it may be that we would welcome the opportunity to share these with the person who has died. One possible way of doing this is by writing a letter. Some people find this a helpful and healing experience, so if this idea appeals to you, here are a few suggestions for how to go about it.

Writing a letter to the person you are grieving

  • Firstly, decide what to write with and on. With paper and pen? On a computer or tablet? In a journal, on notepaper or on loose paper?
  • Before you start writing, think also about what you would like to do with this letter after you finish it. You might change your mind while you are writing, but it’s helpful to start with an intention. Do you plan to keep it or destroy it? Would you like to read it aloud to yourself or to a friend? A friend of mine read her letter to her parents at the place where they were buried. There may be a place that has significance for you where you would like to read your letter – or even write it.  
  • What you write about, how long you write for – that will depend on you and what you want to say. You don’t have to write about feelings. A letter can describe a shared memory that is important to you, about something that has happened since the death, whatever. What is important is to remember that there is no wrong way to do this.
  • It’s worth bearing in mind that you might feel emotional while you are writing, or afterwards, so make sure you look after yourself. If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed while writing, then put the letter away and do something that nurtures you. if you attend a support group or are seeing a counsellor, you might want to discuss this idea before trying it out.

Kate Thompson (2011 p.139) writes:

“Letters are a way of continuing conversations over time and space. This is as true of unsent letters as with normal posted letters”.

If you decide to try letter writing, I hope you find it beneficial.

 

Further reading:

Therapeutic Journal Writing – Kate Thompson - 2011 - Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

 

If you are interested in reading about other creative activities to help you cope with a bereavement, check out our blogs on keeping a journal or writing poetry.

Letter Writing: Continuing Conversations

About the Author

Maureen Szulejewska - Cruse Scotland Volunteer

Maureen Szulejewska is a qualified pluralistic counsellor who lives and works in her native Scotland. Her academic qualifications include BA (Hons) in English, MBA and MSc in Counselling. She has a lifelong fascination with words, language and communication as well as both personal and professional experience of the positive contribution writing can offer in supporting emotional wellbeing. A seasoned journal keeper, she also facilitates writing for wellbeing and journal writing groups.