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TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Letters To The Departed

“Ancient writings may have been created to communicate with others in the area and perhaps even to communicate with future generations. But they always originated with a longing to connect. That longing is never stronger than when a deep connection has been broken.”

~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler, On Grief and Grieving

Of all the coping mechanisms that may be used in externalising the tremendously powerful emotions comprising the soul in grief, perhaps letter writing is most poignant in its manner of expression.

As is captured in the above quote, there is an eternal connectiveness known to life that may be somewhat re-established in writing out our thoughts and feelings. Writing helps with our grief. It may also help us ‘commune’ with a person long gone, by our memory of how they might have listened to us and advised us.

Written Expressions Of Grief

As a personal memoir, I recall writing to a significant old flame regarding my emotions for her and how sickly in love I still was. Given that the end of the relationship was initiated by her, others felt that such letter writing may have given her some sort of correspondingly sick satisfaction.

I didn’t stop. I knew that this practice was ever cathartic for me, despite any negative power I was giving away. It was worth me expressing my feelings; sowing all my heart into poetic utterances that helped me understand my true feelings in order to grapple with the reality before me. Otherwise, I would have had less of an idea regarding what I was dealing with.

As I penned my letters I read them and re-read them. Then I would send them off, hoping for some response, which never came. That, too, helped my grief process; more and more reminders of unrequited love are needed in order to break down the walls of infatuated denial.


As a later observation, reflecting over the epistles years after, letter writing also serves as a snapshot of feelings felt once upon a time. As a stake in the ground, a line in the sand, we have ways of gauging our progress. Any time we can look back, amazed at how it once was, we determine that we have grown.

When it’s the death of a loved one, someone who can never respond, writing them a letter helps us imagine how they might have; it possibly softens the grief process during the irreconcilable hours and days. God ministers to us in peculiar ways.

Allowing, Not Forcing, Expression

Letter writing won’t work for everybody, or in all circumstances of grief, but it is a tool for those pining for such literary expression. Emotions that can be either spoken or written can be heard, read, and therefore better understood. More acceptance of the present-state ensues. Hearing ourselves say the words makes miraculous differences.

Importantly, though, we utilise it by allowing it, not forcing it, for doing that may suppress even further the awkwardness of emotions wedged deeply in the shadowy crevices of our spirits.


Longings for reconnection during grief are helped by the externalisation of otherwise untouchable feelings—if we feel strong enough. Writing to the person, or to the source of our grief, is like sobbing and screaming into a pillow. It helps.

© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

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