My therapist suggested writing goodbye letters as a technique I could use to help me move along those pesky grief stages. I’ve been avoiding that suggestion for quite some time, but when she brought it up again during this past session, I gave it serious consideration. You only have to beat me about the head twice on issues like this.
I wrote one of the letters today. As it turns out, grief is painful. Very painful. The letter was useful in the sense that I learned a bit about my own grief and about some of the unfinished business between me and the person to whom the letter was addressed. I didn’t take great strides towards acceptance, but there’s rather alot of emotional Stuff tied up in reaching that stage.
The technique is simple enough for a horribly difficult task. The idea is basically to write as though you are speaking with the person you’ve lost. Tell them what you wish you could have said while they were still alive. Tell them about your anger and sadness, and whatever else you feel. The main point is to be completely honest with yourself as you write. The letter, after all, won’t be seen by the person you’re writing to.
To be completely blunt, it is very, *very* difficult to write these letters. I found a quiet, familiar spot in a city park and made sure my afternoon was clear so that I could take my time and consider my writing very carefully. In the end I had written four pages back to front and was absolutely exhausted. I can’t say I found a great emotional release in this process– I couldn’t cry, even though I really felt the need to– but I did learn some very valuable things about my feelings and reactions. I’ll take those to therapy next time. Should be a lovely session.
Talking helps, though, and even though I’m very reluctant to describe my feelings with just about anyone, spending the rest of the afternoon with my best friend after writing that bloody letter really helped. For the greatest majority of the afternoon, we didn’t discuss the letter at all. We got in to it the last half hour or so that we were together, and I managed to stop the conversation the minute I felt my emotions starting to push over me. As I told both my best friend and my therapist, denial and repression are two of my biggest talents.
To me, the Del Amitri song ‘Sleep Instead of Teardrops’ is a great description of how grief feels between both the person who is grieving and the person providing support. The bridge in particular felt appropriate this afternoon:
You know my holding you won’t change anything
I can’t stop this whole charade continuing
As each consoling kiss remains on your face like a stain
Grief, to put a fine point on it, hurts, and it hurts quite alot. Still, I’d urge anyone out there to deal with grief in the moment. Don’t put it off for several years, like I’ve done. You’ll get hit even harder in the long run.
Wishing peace and healing to everyone else who’s riding this roller-coaster and to those helping them. And to my best friend, as always, I can’t say anything good enough to describe how much you mean to me. Thanks for always walking beside me.