The Good-bye Letter

Jillian Brasch | December 2nd, 2011

letter-writing2After the funeral, I packed up her clothing in boxes destined for Goodwill. “I can’t do it,” my father had said, calling from his office one morning in late July. “Can you please?” I did it that afternoon when no one else was home, and I did it deliberately and mechanically, carefully unfolding and refolding each sweater, waiting for the good-bye letter she never wrote to flutter to the floor.          Hope Eldeman, Motherless Daughters

In my experience of working with the dying, and then leading bereavement support groups, I find that what everyone really wants is a good-bye letter from the person who died, especially if that person is your parent. And I find that they mainly want to know three things:

  • They want to know that you loved them.
  • They want to know that you were proud of them.
  • They want to know about your relationship with them from your perspective. Something personal.

Answering these three questions seems simple, but I won’t pretend it’s emotionally easy. You may need to read these questions and let them settle in your mind for a few days before writing.

This is a confronting act for any dying parent. It takes tremendous courage. Yet, I believe that it is one of the most important acts a parent can do to help her child heal emotionally. Hopefully, the child inherently knows everything in the letter, and hopefully, the parent has been able to say these thoughts and feelings to the child sometime during her life. As memories fade, is is important to have something tangible, a visible symbol of a parent’s love. There are times when children (and adults) need to ask their parent’s advice. At those times, they can take out the letter and, hopefully, be able to hear their parent saying exactly what they need.

I believe so strongly in the importance of the good-bye letter that I’m going to continue to help you with other ideas over the next several blogs. This is a process. We’re going to work on it together step by step.

I also want to thank the hundreds of you who have written to me. I am making a renewed effort to update this blog regularly.

  1. Barbara Mayfield December 4, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    This is very beautiful and inspiring. I think I will write to my kids NOW, and keep the letters in my LAST WILL file, just in case something sudden happens. Thank you, Jill, for these amazing posts.

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