To Me, From You: Writing Letters From Those We’ve Lost

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Litsa



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In grief (and in life), if you can no longer talk to someone you love, people will often advise you to write them a letter. Write a letter with the things you wish you’d told them. Or maybe an apology, if you need to apologize. Write them a letter filling them in on what they’ve missed. The list goes on. As a mental health professional who has spent her career in grief and lived through her share of loss, I can say there is absolutely a place for writing letters like this. Many people find them helpful, some people even make them an annual tradition or a regular part of their journaling practice.

But today I want to talk about another letter-writing practice in grief. It’s one that seems to be less common but that can be just as helpful (and sometimes even more helpful) – writing yourself a letter from them. I know this can sound a little strange at first. Obviously if they’ve died or are no longer in your life, it might sound a bit woo-woo to write yourself an imaginal letter ‘from’ them. But stay with me here – there are many reasons in grief that this can be incredibly helpful. It’s a tried and true practice for many grievers.


When and Why Write a Letter to Yourself?

There is no single time or moment you might do this. In fact, if you’re someone who has been writing letters to your loved one, a place you might start is in writing yourself a response ‘from’ them. But if can be especially useful in moments when you’re deeply yearning for their perspective. For example, if you’re looking for a new home after your spouse’s death, struggling with leaving your shared home behind. You might long in that moment to be able to talk it over with your spouse more than anyone else. But of course their absence is the very reason this moment is here and so difficult.

This can be an ideal time to create space for yourself, grab a notebook or your journal, and begin writing the letter you think they would write to you right now, if they knew the whole situation and how you were feeling. When doing this, it can be important to take a pause to reflect and think about them for a moment before getting started. Maybe you want to picture them in your mind or sit somewhere that you feel close to them. But once you get going, don’t stop to overthink. Write what comes first and most naturally to you as you imagine the words they might share.


You Knew Them Best

Or, if not best, you knew them incredibly well. That’s why this loss is so huge, why their voice is such an absence. You’ve probably heard someone say that the voice of their ‘inner critic’ or their ‘inner cheerleader’ is the voice of a parent, a best friend, or a partner. You may feel that yourself. There may be moments when you’re just going about your day and you see something and you can practically hear the voice of someone you care about responding to it or ‘talking’ to you. We are deeply relational beings, born to have attachment and connection to others. Our ability to ‘hear’ others is a product of our amazing attachment system.

But we often don’t take the time to tap into these incredible imprints consciously and deliberately. They pop up when you encounter something that triggers them, sure. But we don’t always create the space to remind ourselves how well we knew them and, by extension, how well we can often imagine what their words, responses, and reactions to things would have been.


Imagining is Not The Same

Obviously. Imagining what they would say, hearing their voice in your head or coming from your pen, doesn’t replace hearing their actual voice. But — it’s not nothing, either. Writing letters like this can be a reminder that we’ve lost so much, but there are things we’ve retained. Some piece of them and their perspective, their way of seeing the world and seeing us, is in our memory and our consciousness. We brush up against it and unintentionally tap into it sometimes. And in writing a letter or ourselves (or even just a little note!) we can try to more consciously tap into that connection.


Where To Start

If this idea resonates with you, there is no one way to start. As mentioned above, if you’ve written letters to them in the past, you might start with writing a reply. Some people tell us that, for special occasions – weddings, retirements, births – they’ve created a practice of going to the store and picking the card they think their loved one would have bought them, then sitting down and writing a note or message that they think their loved one would have written.

Some other times it can be helpful is when you are seeking advice – on a big decision or facing a difficult obstacle. Creating the time and space to connect with their memory and really try to ‘listen’ for the ways you’re still connected to how the saw the world and the types of support and advice they offered can be hugely helpful.

Writing letters can also be useful when you’re struggling with emotions around how you move forward in the world without them. Perhaps there is some guilt or regret their you’re stuck on from their death (or before). Perhaps it is inner conflict about parting with some of their belongings or starting to date again. These can be ideal moments to sit down, take a deep breath and picture them in your mind, listen for them in your memory, and put pen to paper writing what you think they might write to you.


Moving into a New Year or a New Chapter of Life

We happen to be writing this just into a new year, with all those resolutions on the brain. Moving into the new year in grief is complicated, which we’ve talked about many times. It can feel like you’re leaving you’re loved one further behind (you’re not. I promise). But that doesn’t change it feeling hard to consider moving into a new year, setting goals, and thinking forward into a future without them.

Any ‘new chapter’ can be a moment to connect with the words you imagine they would share. Write the letter they would write if they could, knowing you are moving into a new chapter of life without them here physically. Not only can the words that come out in your imaginal letter be helpful, but the very act itself can be a reminder that you aren’t ‘moving on’ without them, you are moving forward with them still a part of you.

(We’ll be talking more about grieving in the new year on our free webinar on January 17, 2022 – sign up here if you’d like to join us!)

Ever written a letter to yourself from your loved one? Thinking about writing letters now? Love the idea? Hate this idea? Leave a comment.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We wrote a book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
real-life book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.

What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss goes on sale September 27, 2022, but you can preorder at the following retailers:

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10 Comments on "To Me, From You: Writing Letters From Those We’ve Lost"

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  1. Judy  January 21, 2023 at 11:00 am Reply

    My sweetheart died unexpectedly in early April 2020. He loved being outdoors and was a calm, kind and loving man. Writing a letter, or letters, from him to me will be a counterbalance to many of my journal entries which have begun with “Dearest Bruce”.

  2. Susan  January 10, 2023 at 10:51 am Reply

    I have been writing regularly to Claire, my long term partner, since she died a little over five years ago. I call my collection of many, many letters, poems and meditations “Notes to Claire.”
    This idea resonates with me so very strongly. I will find a time soon when I can simply dedicate a day to writing a letter FROM Claire. I am sure it will be a healing experience. Thank you for sharing this…

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  3. Jonny's girl  January 10, 2023 at 12:33 am Reply

    My therapist recently suggested I do this, write a letter from my deceased husband to me.
    I went to bed thinking about this and woke with the whole 6 page letter in my head.
    In my letter, my husband who was an anxious, worrisome guy told me, he is watching out for me and told me to be cautious and patient but said someday I will have joy again and he will be there and see that.

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  4. Laurie  January 9, 2023 at 9:39 pm Reply

    I found a heart shaped pot hole in the sidewalk near my train stop. I called it Tom’s Love Note. On the way to work, I would look at it and imagine him making an encouraging comment to me. Snow in the heart – “I bet it’s pretty today. Remember that day at the zoo?!” Wet with rain – “Don’t be discouraged, and bundle up.” Worried about a project at work – “You’ve got this. And you’re right, Laurie, your boss is being a jerk.” Another day – “The kids are alright”, or “I will always love you. It’s okay. Have some fun without me.”
    I made a mold of Tom’s Love Note before the city relaid the sidewalk.

    • Jonny's girl  January 10, 2023 at 10:23 pm Reply

      I love this! Very sweet!

      1
  5. Saul  January 9, 2023 at 8:33 pm Reply

    Purchased your book and have now read it twice. I must admit it has been very helpful
    It will be 2 years on January 17 since my wife passed away and my life will never be the same
    Again . After 54 years together we knew everything about each other and even though we had our ups and downs life with her was great
    I felt ashamed telling people that I still talk to every day and still have tears when the holidays come or when I listen to certain songs
    After reading the book I feel stronger and the heck with friends who think I’m crazy
    They have not been through what I’ve been through and just maybe those people who tell me it’s time for a new partner don’t know what it’s like to lose a soulmate and never experienced what my wife and I did during our life together
    I’ do not know about life after death but am choosing to believe that she is waiting for me
    The book has helped me with guilt as most of my guilt is regrets of things we did not get to do in our life together
    It is hard going to places where we loved going together but it brings back so many fantastic memories
    Thanks for the book
    Saul

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    • Laurie  January 30, 2023 at 4:05 pm Reply

      Saul, 2 years is such a short time, and 54 years is such a long time. Of course holidays and anniversaries, and well, everything, is still full of grow and sorrow.
      After 33 years together, I just passed the 7 year mark last week. I’ve been exploring and learning how to love this life I have, but I only recently feel free and like “I have returned to myself”. And yet still I wept on the seventh anniversary of his death. And screamed to high heaven on his birthday this week. That is the way of things. Be patient and be proud of yourself!

      • Laurie  January 30, 2023 at 4:08 pm

        Oops, spell check – I meant “grief and sorrow”.
        (Although, there is also growing.)

    • Jonny's girl  January 31, 2023 at 12:14 am Reply

      Saul,
      I can so relate to your letter. My husband and I were together for 40 years, from our teens to our 50’s. Tomorrow will be 10 months since my sweet Jon passed away. There have been many tears and yes, there are songs that really get the tears flowing.
      You are so right that “those people” don’t understand because they have never lost their soul mate. Jon and I too had our ups and downs but life with him was great. And yes, I do feel guilt guilt that we never got to enjoy retirement years. And I too believe he is waiting for me to join him one day.
      From someone who understands
      Take care,

  6. Trinity  January 9, 2023 at 3:08 pm Reply

    Somewhere early in my grief, I read about writing a letter and then responding or just sitting down and writing a letter from my loved one. There was even a suggestion to write with the non-dominant hand to put a spin on it. I wasn’t sure about the idea so I understand the woo-woo you mentioned, but I pulled out my laptop, closed my eyes, and just started typing a stream of consciousness without thinking about what was coming out. When I read it, I was surprised by some of what it said. It was a comforting feeling to read it and I realized I had typed what I probably needed to hear but it sounded more like my loved one’s style of speech than mine. I do often hear his advice in times of decision and loved being able to help connect my memory of his words to the page.

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