I have, thankfully, had to write only a few of those letters. One very memorable one was to my dad's best friend, Al, who was dying from cancer. I was living in BC at the time and I was so sad that I wouldn't have the opportunity to visit with him and talk with him before the end came. Al was a part of our life growing up and brought into our household, many moments of laughter and hysterics. He was a character to say the least and I don't expect to ever meet another man like Al in this lifetime. Feeling frustrated and knowing that I might regret the fact that I wouldn't see Al one last time, I decided to sit down and write him a letter about how he had impacted my life and how much I was going to miss him. I know that his wife received the letter and read it to him at his bedside. I felt peaceful knowing that this farewell had been completed.
Now, probably the most popular of the "hard-to-write-letters" is the 'Dear John' letter which I haven't written any of as I despise using letter writing, texting or emailing for matters of the heart like break-ups. Come on, people, get a back bone and be considerate enough to break-up with someone face-to-face. The letter can come afterwards. I know my sister has written a lot of 'Dear John' letters but that's only because she is married to a man named John.
After the break-up or the divorce, there may be many emotions that haven't even surfaced or acknowledged. Perhaps, you have a strong need to tell your former love of the things you really appreciated about them and on the other hand, maybe you feel a need to really get some things off your chest. Maybe you need them to know that you HATED when they left their socks on the floor and how they chewed their food. Yes, maybe their naked bike riding on city streets at 2am was eccentric and interesting when you first met but maybe you just need to tell them that, well, the novelty wore off and that's just weird. There are alot of things we keep to ourselves for the sake of keeping the peace but if the divorce is final, I say write it all down in one mad rush and send it off. Phew....doesn't that feel better?
On the other hand, there are letters that need writing that usually involve some form of difficult and strong emotion like rage and grief but that don't necessarily need to be mailed. I facilitate a workshop for women who want to make peace with their difficult births and one of the suggestions is letter writing. Handwritten letters that express all of it.....their anger, their disappointment, their grief, their rage, their feelings of shame and degradation and embarrassment and so on. The most important thing is to get it all down on paper as though they are writing to the one who crossed them and then they burn it. Some letters don't have to be mailed.
And finally, the letters of grief......the letters that are written to someone who has passed on. Perhaps, you didn't get a chance to say all you needed to say because time ran out or the death was sudden. What do you do with all of these unspoken words and thoughts? You write them down in the form of a letter and while you write you assume that in some way, the decesased will be able to read it. The peace brought about by this process can be magnificently healing. You can write about the things you wished you had said or done while the person was alive. You can apologize for the things that you didn't get around to apologizing for and you can thank them for the things they might have done that changed your life in some way. Sometimes these letters are filled with sheer anger and if that's what you got, that's what you write.
There are no rules to these types of letters. The act of getting it out of your head and heart and onto paper is not only the first step but it might be the only step needed. I suggest that if letters are highly emotional, that you wait a couple of days before sending and perhaps re-read it and make sure that you have no regrets when you drop it in the box.
Oh, one last type that I just thought of............maybe you have had a falling out with someone and you haven't spoken in days,weeks or even years. So very hard to move past the stubborness and pick up the phone.....so much easier to send an email or a text. Take it from me, writing a letter will mean more and will be accepted more easily than a phone call as the one on the receiving end will have the opportunity to read it over and over before responding. And it is so much more personal than a text or an email. An email might insinuate that you really do want to make ammends but you're just too darn busy to do anything else but fire off an email. That likely won't get you the reaction you're hoping for.
If you see yourself in any of the situations above, think about the almightly letter and it's power in bringing closure, peace and healing to you (and maybe someone else) in difficult times.