Books by Melissa Bowersock

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Writing Letters to the Dead

I know well the therapeutic power of writing. Over the last few decades of my life, I have often used writing to get a grasp of and process some crisis or another, large or small. Writing about an  issue gives me a unique perspective that simple contemplation does not. If I only think about a problem, I find myself going over the same ground again and again with no resolution in sight. If I write about it, once I'm able to set down the prickly points of the issue on paper, I find I can move on to the underlying causes, the "so whats" and the "what ifs." I can follow a trail of writing much like a trail of breadcrumbs, going further and further into the dark woods of my psyche to the core of the issue. Once I've reached that point of understanding, I can choose my response: change something outside of me, change something inside of me, or make no change at all.

Writing letters to the dead is a great way to deal with grief and loss. Just recently, a very dear friend of mine passed on. It wasn't a total surprise--she'd been ill and had entered Hospice care--but the incontrovertible finality of it caught me off guard. Imagining someone's death and the experiencing the reality of it are two totally different things. For whatever reason, we seem to always think we'll have time to say the important words, to do the loving, comforting things. Maybe we hold off because saying and doing those things before death shows up at the door feels inappropriate, but that window of appropriate timing is very small and often appears--and disappears--without warning. Suddenly, irrevocably, that opportunity for last words is gone.

We know how we feel inside. We know the words we meant to say. But we didn't get to say them.

Enter the letter. Now we have the means to say all the things we didn't before. No, it's not exactly like having a face-to-face conversation, but it's the next best thing. And I've noticed two things about writing such letters. My belief structure tells me that once someone has passed over, they now know everything in my heart and mind, which means (1) I don't need to explain myself. Conversely, however, because of (1), there is (2): I can't lie. There's no lying, no manipulating the truth. The letter has to be excruciatingly honest.

Beyond that, the rest is easy. Say what you need to say. Words of love, sorrow, hope, amends. Words from one heart to another. Words that rise above and go deep down.

Writing a letter like this goes a long way toward closure, toward resolution, toward peace. You know you've done everything you can. They know it, too. The grief won't abate--only time will do that--but you just might find an  oasis of comfort in having that final conversation.

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