Monday, June 5, 2023

In Grief: How Writing Letters Can Help

More than kisses, letters mingle souls.  ~ John Donne

A reader writes: I'm so sorry for all our losses and the horrible pain we're feeling. I'm a little reluctant to comment because my spouse died two years ago. Yes, I should be "over it" by now as so many have said, but I'm not. I hope my writing this doesn't depress too many others.

The 24/7 makes it especially hard, doesn't it? My husband was retired and I'm a freelance artist working at home so, basically, we shared every moment. I wish I could say that it gets better, but I haven't experienced that part yet. This may seem strange to some who haven't been there, but I'm finding that our relationship, though transformed, continues. I've done all the things you're supposed to do--I've looked for a job, volunteered, found a church, joined groups, taken classes--but the reality of life doesn't change.

The one thing that seems to help me, and I'd really recommend it to others, is to write letters. Tell your loved one all the things you never had the time to say when you believed time was endless. I've been doing this for 18 months and it's allowed me to release feelings that I think would have destroyed me otherwise. I'm starting my 6th journal this week. All I can say is that we're not alone, even though it feels that way.

My response: How unfortunate and how sad that certain others have chastised you for not being “over it” by now. As you so beautifully said, “the reality of life doesn’t change” simply because nearly two years have passed since your husband died. 

I’m reminded of a poignant piece by Anna Quindlen that appears on the Comfort for Grieving Hearts page of my Grief Healing website:

Grief remains one of the few things that has the power to silence us.

It is a whisper in the world and a clamor within.

More than sex, more than faith, even more than its usher death,

grief is unspoken, publicly ignored

except for those few moments at the funeral that are over too quickly,

or the conversations among the cognoscenti,

those of us who recognize in one another

a kindred chasm deep in the center of who we are.

Maybe we do not speak of it because death will mark all of us, sooner or later.

Or maybe it is unspoken because grief is only the first part of it.

After a time it becomes something less sharp but larger, too,

a more enduring thing called loss.

Perhaps that is why this is the least explored passage:

because it has no end.

The world loves closure,

loves a thing that can, as they say, be gotten through.

This is why it comes as a great surprise to find that loss is forever,

that two decades after the event there are those occasions

when something in you cries out at the continual presence of an absence.

I also want to acknowledge and support your efforts to continue your relationship with your husband, in your case by writing letters to him. So often we torture ourselves with the mistaken belief that we must sever the bonds we have with our loved ones who have died. As Thomas Attig says, “The heart of grief, its most difficult challenge, is not ‘letting go’ of those who have died, but instead making the transition from loving in presence to loving in separation” ( in The Heart of Grief: Death and the Search for Lasting Love, Oxford University Press, NY, ISBN 0195156250).

There is a great deal of wisdom and truth in your words, and I want to thank you for having the courage to share your message here, despite your initial reluctance to do so. As a more seasoned traveler on this path, you have a great deal to offer others who’ve just begun this journey of grief, and I hope you’ll continue to share what you have learned. You will always be most welcome here!

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here.


Image by Silvia from Pixabay
© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH  

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