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Writing to Process Grief

Sometimes I cringe when I hear this advice: Write a letter to your loved one and throw it away.

People who are not trained grief counselors think this task will help the bereaved with ‘letting go’ or ‘moving on’ from their loss. It is true that writing a letter to a deceased loved one can be healing; however, it does not resolve the grief nor end the mourning process.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt describes effective ways in which to write a grief letter in his book, Healing A Spouse’s Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas After Your Husband or Wife Dies. He encourages grievers to write letters to their deceased loved ones on special anniversary dates or holidays as a way to release pain. The letters also act as a way to stay connected to their loved one throughout the year and/or years. Writing a letter is viewed as a way to remain connected, in a healthy way, to the deceased.

The process of putting pen to paper requires the brain to process thoughts and feelings in a different way. The writing process can open up thoughts and memories that may have not been accessible from just talking about them.

Writing is not for Everyone

Some counselors may prescribe all grievers to write letters as an intervention to help the bereaved ‘get out’ their emotions. But, for some, it might not be a beneficial exercise. Non-writers might find videotaping or creating a piece of art throughout the year to be more effective than agonizing over writing a letter.

Grief Letter Prompts

If you want to try writing through your grief, here are some ideas to get you started:
* Find a journal to write your letters in. For each journal entry, write the date and record how long it has been since your loved one died.
* Think about some things you would say to your loved one if they were living today and record those in your journal. These could be stories, thoughts and feelings you had throughout the day, or a memory you had that day.
* Write about your plans and questions you might have asked him if he were still alive.
* Write about what is the hardest for you right now or what you miss about your loved one.
* Write thank you notes to friends, nurses, doctors, hospice workers, clergy.

Related:
Rebuilding Your Life After Your Husband’s Death
3 Financial Mistakes Widows Make
Financial Decisions for the First Year
Grief Counselor Karen Liebold Head shotAbout the Author: Grief Counselor Karen Liebold, L.C.P.C., M.A. is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor committed to grief education. Karen has worked with clients in a variety of settings and has presented professional education workshops and seminars at both the national and international levels.
Disclaimer: This blog post provides general educational information from a mental health professional, but you should not substitute information on this blog for individual professional advice. If you are thinking of hurting yourself or someone else, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255, call 911 or visit your local hospital Emergency Room. Karen Liebold is not a licensed representative of Royal Alliance Associates or Phase 3 Advisory Services.