Missing Moments & Letter Writing: A Journal Exercise.

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Eleanor Haley

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I still feel a small tinge of excitement when the mail comes.  It’s a fleeting feeling, one left over from the days when receiving a handwritten card or letter was a reasonable expectation.  I still hold out a small bit of hope that I’ll find one such envelope sandwiched between Target mailers and credit card offers, but most of the time I don’t.

full mailbox

My mother wrote letters before she died.  In fact, she refused to learn how to use a computer so I’m certain she would be writing letters to this day if she were alive.  Her letters were great, substantial to say the least.

The length of my mother's letters seemed to directly correlate with how worried she was about you at the time she wrote it. Open up the thick envelope and you'd find page after page of motherly concern, advice, and sometimes research she'd done on the topic at the local Barnes and Noble.  My siblings and I all knew to expect an envelope in the mail preceding any major life events or following any unsettling bumps in the road.

I guess my mother just worried a lot, especially about the children who were out of her care.  She never really ascribed to the ‘they’ll learn from their failures’ method and she tried with all her might and motherly persuasion to ensure we never fell too far.  She was always the first to bail us out, even when it was our screw-up, and she nurtured us unconditionally.  Whether this was good or bad parenting is irrelevant because it was the only way she was willing to love.  Consequently, whenever I found a 6 page double-sided ‘Concerned Mom’ letter in the mail I always felt comfort before I felt any pangs of shame or guilt for the deed that caused her to write it, and every time I found a 10 page ‘you-have-a-big-life-event-coming-up-and-have-you-thought-about-these-100-things?’ letter in my mailbox, I knew she was right there figuratively holding my hand.

Sadly nowadays my mailbox is completely devoid of love...unless you could Papa John's coupons as love...some do.   There are no letters of reassurance, concern, or interest.  My mother can no longer celebrate the successes of her children or comfort them in the face of failure.  My empty mailbox has become a small reminder of all my mother is missing, now and in the future.

When someone dies, we project and carry our grief well into the future.  How could we not? The future is filled with moments we envisioned them being present for.  Of course there’s nothing we can do to fill their absence and ultimately we must accept the fact that they’re not here; but acceptance doesn’t change the likelihood many of us will feel emotions like bitterness, anger, longing, and loneliness every time we step back and say I wish he or she were here.

Journaling Challenge:  Write a Letter

The next time you find yourself feeling sad about something your loved one has missed or will miss, write a letter and tell them about it.  This could be a monumental event like a wedding, a new job, or a birth; it could be a hardship like a divorce, loss of a job, or feelings of depression; or it could be an everyday moment like a birthday, seeing their favorite team play, or a family dinner.

Tell them about the event/moment as you would if you could just pick up the phone.  Don’t pretend they’re still alive, but imagine you can still talk to them.  What would you want them to know?  What did they miss?  How did you miss them in the moment?  What are you worried about?  What emotions did you feel as a result of them not being there?  If your writing about their absence on their birthday or anniversary, focus on your emotions and how you felt as the day came and went.  Feel free to include photos, artwork, or newspaper clippings.  Don’t stress out about perfect sentence structure, just write.

Do whatever you want with your letter afterward... Keep it with your journal, put it somewhere private, throw it away, or send it to someone along with a little explanation.

Tip: Unless your circumstances call for it, don’t get caught up in telling them everything they've missed since they died. Try to focus on the specific event, moment, or milestone.  If your writing about your wedding plans, pretend they already know your engagement story. If you’re writing about getting a new job, pretend they already know you graduated from college.  Trying to catch them up on the details can be overwhelming will wear you out.

I wrote a simple letter to my mother as an example below

 Dear Mom,

I’m missing you a lot these past few weeks.  Last Sunday was Mother’s Day and this day has been hard for me since you died. I know you never made a huge deal of it when you were alive, but we probably should have.  You deserved a lot more recognition than we gave you.

I tried to keep things positive for the girls' sake.  They are still young enough to feel really proud and excited about making and giving me things.  Evie probably made 10 different pictures for me and I had to act very excited about each one.  Actually, she spent a lot of time on one of them and it was very good!  I think she has a little artist in her.  Anyway, I talk to them quite a lot about you and we discussed why Mother’s Day is hard for me.  They get it (even though they don’t get it).  I love talking to them about you, so much I sometimes find myself wishing they would bring you up.  I’m not sure why, I guess it’s equivalent to the happiness I see when they form a relationship with their other grandparents….this is the best I can hope for for them and you.  Sadly.

I really wish you knew them and I really wish they knew you.  Evie is mature and smart but so silly.  Ginny is stubborn and strong-willed but so much fun.  She is literally the girl with the little curl in the middle of her forehead.   She loves to sing and dance but she is also very very shy.  They both love princesses...really it's getting quite ridiculous.  They are sisters through and through which means they fight like cats and dogs.  Whenever I find myself trying to stop the arguing I think of you.  Man, you must have been so frustrated with us all the time!!  Anyway, they would make you laugh. 

It makes me sad when I think about all you're missing.  You have so many grandchildren now!  You should see when we all get together, the adults are greatly outnumbered.  You would love to see Dad surrounded by all the smaller kids, rolling around on the floor and playing all the same made-up games that he played with his own children. 

 Anyway…we all miss you dearly.  I think about you every single day. 



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5 Comments on "Missing Moments & Letter Writing: A Journal Exercise."

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  1. Deb  June 1, 2023 at 11:42 pm Reply

    I love, love, LOVE this idea! I learned about the concept of keeping a letter writing journal (link removed) just a few days ago and have already written a few letters…one to my ex-husband who never apologized…and one to my younger self, forgiving and reassuring her. I’ve really been missing my grandmother lately and will be writing her next. Thank you so much for this lovely idea!

  2. Vicki  July 20, 2016 at 6:04 pm Reply

    I’m not feeling sad about what he’s missed or WILL miss. I’m depressed that so many extremists go around blaming him for his own death, bc that’s what people seem to (enjoy?) doing when it’s a homicide of massive proportions. They don’t think about whether someone who knew a person who died on September 11 will see what they say, and they’re too busy playing freakin’ politics to even care anyway.
    The forlorn feeling is even worse bc my daughter’s birthday is in a few weeks and once again she doesn’t want to celebrate it bc her dad isn’t here. She has traumatic brain injury now, she got it last year in an accident that almost killed her and left her with aphasia. She can’t talk, she has to write everything she wants to say. That’s what she wrote to Richard when he asked about her birthday and then she started crying. She’s never discussed the death at all in terms of grief until now, so it’s not like she isn’t getting over it and we do keep running across people who either blame him for his own death or think it didn’t happen in the first place as much as we meet people who care too. Having a high profile grief has both positive and negative aspects to it. People don’t think before they talk and they’re wrong anyway IMO. I don’t believe people aren’t responsible for criminal actions.

  3. Helene Domi  August 7, 2013 at 7:09 am Reply

    I began writing my mom a letter every few days in a nice journal book to help me since she died 15 months ago. It has helped me tremendously. My mom and I were best friends. Writing to her, I tell her things that I normally would tell her her and I tell her my struggles with dealing with her death.
    My mom was also a letter writer and taught me that practice.
    If you want to surprise someone, mail them a card of letter. They will feel special and loved.

    • Litsa  August 7, 2013 at 8:49 am Reply

      That is a wonderful idea to keep a series of letters in a journal! Sometimes when we write to someone who has it makes it easier to imagine what they would say to support or advise us, so I could see doing this regularly being a nice comfort. And I totally agree about the card or letter – there is nothing more exciting than a thoughtful, handwritten card or letter from someone, yet it seems like it is becoming a lost art!!

  4. burnsjohn007  May 28, 2013 at 4:41 am Reply

    What a lovely idea. Writing a letter is a lost art now, but can be so valuable when grieving for a loved one. Excellent post, Eleanor.

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