Letter writing as part of the grief process

Why would you write a letter to your deceased loved one? Is this crazy or what? When a loved one dies, particularly a traumatic death, our lives are thrown into confusion. Grief can be perplexing and painful because we don’t normally experience such intensity of emotion.

When our son, Adam, took his life, I found letter writing important in maintaining my relationship with him and in clarifying what I was experiencing.

The act of writing created structure in chaotic times. It forced me to examine my life and to recognise the reality and finality of Adam’s death.

Writing letters to your loved one is beneficial in the following ways.

  • It validates your life.

It says, ‘This is how it is.’ It is a declaration of the hurt and pain and also the hope and trust that is our life. It may not be neat and tidy, an orderly process. Grief has a way of upending everything, challenging us to know ourselves and to re-define our purpose.

You were important to us, Adam. You were a part of us. We shared in your struggles. We celebrated your triumphs. It is your failures we are left to contemplate. Parents feel a deep attachment to their children. Their love is constant. We loved you Adam and continue to love you. We want so much for you to be understood. We search for answers and strive for understanding. Knowing why someone would choose to take their life is a personal search but we do gain some insight which helps us to grieve.  The journey is difficult as it is an invitation to thoroughly examine our own lives.

                                                                                                                  October 2012

  • It is a way of processing your grief.

In grief or trauma, it is important to externalise emotions. If we deny or inhibit them we lose our capacity to be touched and changed by life’s experiences. When we write, we give form to thoughts and feelings, allowing us to begin the process of understanding. Acknowledging and labelling our emotions contributes to our physical and emotional health.

“We cannot heal what we cannot feel or do not allow ourselves to feel.”      Alan D. Wolfelt

You can’t imagine the sorrow and pain you have caused your mother and I. It feels like something has been wrenched from us. We are still coming to terms with your death. It is the permanency that is so hard to accept. The dominant feeling is that of sadness.

Sadness that your life had to end the way it did. We think of the morning you left and regret that our weariness kept us from engaging with you even though we could hear you up and about. The sounds of that morning reverberate in my head. The sound of you bumping into something, the back door sliding open and shut, the front gate rattling, your car revving up and accelerating away. I had this sense that you were gone, that you had walked out of our lives.

                                                                                          October 2011

  • It allows you to keep your memories alive.

When a loved one dies our relationship continues but in a different form. Writing about our memories preserves the past: the good times, the happiness, the sorrow, and the heartache. Memories give value to life and are an acknowledgement of all that has gone before. They are worth preserving so they can be passed on.

You began working at Taranto’s Market Garden while you were still at school. Sometimes I would see you on the tractor. On one occasion you told me about taking out one of the sprinklers. Were you distracted or just going too fast? You would ride your bike to work. One night the garage was broken into and your bike was stolen. The police were notified but didn’t seem that interested. You said you had your suspicions. You seemed resigned to disappointment. The bike was never found.

I went with you to Hastings the day you bought your white Ford Falcon sedan. It proved to be a reliable car. You always seemed to have a stash of coins by the driver’s seat. I was never sure why they were there. Did you keep them for the parking meter or didn’t you like them jangling around in your pocket?

                                                            December 2011

  • It is helpful if there is unfinished business in your relationship with your loved one.

The suicide of a loved one is often sudden and unexpected. You are left to rue the fact that you weren’t able to comprehend the extent of their pain and confusion. This has the potential to amplify your sense of guilt and remorseful thoughts.

In your case, Adam, were you endeavouring to tell us that life had lost all meaning for you? Were you looking for us to rescue you from your thoughts? Did you want us to provide answers to your pain? I’m sorry Adam. We didn’t do very well. Our understanding was limited. We believed in you. We thought you would find a way through your disappointments.

                                                                                                                October 2012

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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