Peter contacted me last week wondering how to start a letter to his ex-wife to tell her that he was dying and to express what their relationship had meant to him. Although there is a link at the top of the Last Goodbye Letters homepage on How To Write Your Own Letter, I thought it would be good to share my response to Peter. I hope this response helps others write letters.
I’m so sorry to hear about your health. Facing mortality is something we all must do, but when it comes time to get real about that, I can only imagine the gamut of emotions that must be a turmoil for you.
Here’s what you do:
- First, know that you don’t have to write down EVERYTHING in your letter. That’s probably impossible.
- Second, don’t try to write the entire letter from start to finish without first making some notes.
- How to make notes: Write down words and phrases like: sorry, stupid, freedom, love, scared, make amends, need to laugh, etc. Write down words / stories you have of the person that are particularly memorable to you.
- Write the letter from your notes.
- Start with why you wanted to write the letter in the first place. For example, “It’s hard for me to put this into writing, but I wanted you to know that I’m dying from _______________.”
- How does writing the letter make you feel? For example, “I’m scared that I might die without you knowing the reasons behind my actions. Writing this letter is as much for me as it is for you.”
- Then start writing down the reasons WHY you wrote the words or phrases from point #3.
- End your letter with why you felt it was important to write. For example, “We made a lot of memories together—both good and bad—but I thought you deserved to know how I acted the way I did. I think you do know why I left but I didn’t want you to guess, I wanted to tell you this from my heart.”
I’m sorry for the reason you have to write your letter(s). I think it will be a healing experience for you. Don’t worry about how it ends up. Don’t worry about how your ex-wife (or anyone else) responds to the letter. The important thing is that you write it.
If you would like to host a letter writing workshop, let us know via the Contact Us! form and we can send you a workshop outline.
And, as always, if you would like to share your letter with others to inspire them to write, please send it to us at: Letters@LastGoodbyeLetters.com.
Recently, American poet Donald Hall died at the age of 89. Writing was part of his DNA. Hall wrote poetry, memoirs, plays, short stories, magazine articles and children’s books.
But he also wrote letters.
Donald Hall wrote two books were about the painful experience he had dealing with the death of his wife, poet Jane Kenyon. Hall confessed that he wrote “her letters after her death. And writing her letters after her death gave me the only sort of happiness of the day. I felt in communication with her somehow, not supernaturally, but poetically.”
But you don’t have to be a poet laureate to feel the release of grief by writing to a loved one. Janet sent me a letter at 1:15 this morning. It’s a beautiful letter to her father. And the beauty is that she can continue to write him letters and feel the comfort of him whenever she needs to quiet her tears.
Thank you, Janet, for sharing your letter:
It’s been eight years since you’ve gone. But it never gets easier for me. I miss you so very much. You are the best dad ever. No one can ever love me like you. Your death has totally changed me and my life. I miss every moment we spent together. I wish you didn’t have to go. It makes me very sad when I see that you aren’t with my during the important events of my life like my graduation ceremony. I want you to see how much I’ve grown up. Your little daughter isn’t small anymore. But I’ll always be your princess. I love and miss you to the moon and back. I long to meet you again.
If you would like to share a letter and encourage others to do the same, please send your letter to Letters@LastGoodbyeLetters.com.
This came across my desk a while ago. I thought it was a beautiful letter and wanted to share it. This shows that a letter doesn’t have to be written by a poet or professional author. This shows that a letter doesn’t have to be physically delivered to the intended recipient. Little Reece says it all in a few words and a lot of XXXs. I know this warmed his mother’s heart in Heaven.
In case you can’t read it from the picture, here’s the content of the letter:
I love you a million times around the world and back. I wish you didn’t have to die. I remember playing with you and that made me happy. I know you are an angel now Mommy and you can see me all the time. I feel sad but I’m going to be brave.
Love from Reece
If you need help writing your own letter, click on the link at the top menu bar: HOW TO WRITE YOUR OWN LETTER. Or contact me personally at Susan@LastGoodbyeLetters.com.
Back in the 1980s I was fortunate enough to meet Glen Campbell in person–in a green room before an interview. He had his guitar and asked me to sing with him. Now, EVERYONE knows EVERY word of EVERY song of Glen Campbell’s, but I was so nervous I couldn’t remember many. I was so embarrassed, but Glen was very gracious. In this link, Kim Campbell writes her letter. CareLiving.org
I hope Kim’s letter inspires others to do the same for their loved ones. Someone I love is beginning to experience dementia as well. It’s a tough thing to watch someone slowly loose who they used to be.
It’s been one year since I wrote my last letter to my college friend, Kim. It’s taken me one whole year to post it. Now I understand why some people don’t want me to post their letters–it’s very personal. It’s very vulnerable. It seems so inadequate and I don’t want the world to know how inadequate I am. But if I’m asking others to share, then I should as well. This is a tribute to a woman who was strong and thoughtful and smart and sassy and classy and so much more. I hope my sharing of this letter will encourage others to share their feelings in writing so that opportunities to tell people we love them won’t be lost because we are too “scared” to do so.
Forgive me for impersonally typing a deeply personal letter, but I have so many thoughts I want to get out quickly and typing is my best way to do that.
I’m thinking back to the first time I saw you in college. In our pledge class, I was sort of intimidated by you because you were so self-assured, poised and smart! You spoke your mind with confidence and everyone could tell that you were a thinking woman and someone to be respected. But you were also warm and fun-loving. I felt special that you included me with your ‘gang’ in the Rho Sigma Club in our chapter room and with your family’s poker nights.
As we’d meet on and off through the years, I’d always come away feeling like I was a better person for being around you. You made me think harder and deeper about important things than anyone else. I still (to this day) feel a little intimidated by your mind’s bright thoughts.
Something that has bothered me for a very long time, and I never knew how to bring it up was that for a few years, we fell out of touch. I missed being a support to you when you could’ve used a hug. I’m not even sure how we got back in touch, but I’m glad we did. And, of course, this past year we’ve gotten even closer. The good thing about that is that my husband has gotten to know yours better and has grown to care about him very, very much.
Every time I have a dream, I wish I could discuss it’s meaning with you. I remember when we were discussing my childhood dream in your home and you brought out meaning that I couldn’t figure out. Even if I asked you to tell me a step-by-step method of analyzing my own dreams, I’m sure I couldn’t find the meaning that you can. I guess that’s what years of specialized training does for a person!
And I love that you and (your husband) find meaning and spirituality in ceremony. As I was doing tai chi this morning I was thinking of what you may be doing and thinking right now. I felt connected to you and the world and thinking that there are so many things in this Universe that we don’t understand. And maybe that’s OK. As I “waved hands like clouds” I breathed in and gave thanks to the Universe that you are in my life. I gave thanks that there is a continuity of life and, as I think I told you once, I feel that we are all connected like the great Aspen groves are connected underground, sight unseen, to make up the largest living organism in the world. As we say during the grand terminus: Bring Heaven to Earth.
This letter so inadequately expresses my feelings. Such is the failure of language. But I am a better person for knowing you, and I thank you for that.
Love. Love. Love.
If you feel compelled to share a goodbye letter, please use the contact form listed on this site.
Sometimes–often times–our best friends are of the non-human variety. While we love our pets and cherish them during their time with us, many of us realize the enormity of their companionship only after they are gone. Big or small, four legs or two, furry or feathered or scaled, animals make the world and our lives better simply by being themselves.
One friend of mine expressed her sadness in a poem which she generously allowed me to share with you here:
In the blink of an eye, my littlest love is gone and can’t be replaced.
With her white silky hair and picture perfect face, she tried to teach
me that life isn’t a race.
I was so focused on her noise and her constant demands. Little did I realize how much I’d miss the attention she commands.
A little tiny girl full of life love and play, She loved her mommy until the end of her day.
I miss your morning kisses and being followed around. I miss having you as an alarm clock and your watchdog sound.
I miss your excitement while I was making your food. I miss being kissed by your tiny face and cute little nose. It was you that kept me on my toes.
I miss carrying you to bed and finding you on my shoulder in the night. I didn’t realize how much you were my guiding light.
I wish you were with us, it’s so empty now. Thank you for the 10 years of being my biggest fan, little baby and pal.
If only I would have focused on appreciating you more. I wish I could come home and see you waiting by the door.
Jasmine, the little girl that I will always adore.
Write a letter to your loved one–animal or human–and share it. If you would like to share it with the world, please send it to me and I will post it with your permission.
I recently had an interview with BBC Radio’s The Why Factor as part of their story about why people write farewell letters. Thank you to my local public radio station, KJZZ Phoenix, for allowing me to use their studio for the interview. That story should be available to listen to live on Friday, October 14 at 9:30 PM (UTC) or 2:30 PM local Arizona time. Here is a link to listen: BBC World Service – The Why Factor. As part of that story, Mike Williams is hosting a Facebook Live chat/interview Thursday, October 13 at 4:00 PM (UTC) or 9:00 AM for my Arizona friends. I believe we will be covering how to write your own letter, read excerpts from letters and–here’s where you come in–take questions from people who post them on the Facebook site. If you would like to ask a question in real time, please go to: Facebook BBC Stories. I look forward to hearing from you! Of course, you can always ask you questions via this site as well.
I’m a fan of The Moth Radio Hour. If you ever have a chance to see a live Moth performance, you should treat yourself. However, most of the time I only get to listen on the radio. Today I heard episode 1412 which included a story by humorist Tom Bodett.
In the narrative, Tom talks about a letter his father gave him and how it changed the course of his life. During The Moth Radio Extra interview in which Producer Maggie Cino discusses the focus of Tom’s story, Mr. Bodett says of the letter, “My dad did this one really important thing for me, and maybe that’s enough.”
I have been encouraging people to write to each other because we never know how our words of kindness, encouragement, revelation, or perspective may change the lives of others. Our letters do matter. And they do change lives. Even if they are only our own.
Go to this link to hear the entire interview, (but please focus on minutes 3-6 where Tom Bodett talks specifically about the letter his dad wrote to him): Moth Radio Extra: Tom Bodett Full Interview. To hear the whole story about Tom Bodett’s fears of his father’s judgment of him after being accidentally electrocuted, the letter Tom’s dad wrote to him and the surprise he had reading the content of the letter, please click here: Tom Bodett – Inside Passage – The Moth Radio Hour.
And, as always, if you need help writing your own letter, click on the tab above: How To Write Your Own Letter. I am hoping you will send your letter to me to post here and share with others.
A lot of young people have just graduated from high school or college and are headed off into the big world–whether it’s on to work or college or the military or marriage and family or other adventures life brings. But with a wave of wistful nostalgia, many parents think back on their little children astounded that they have grown into amazing young adults so fast. And while most parents are saddened to see their children fly the nest, we are also happy because that is the way of life.
One such mother shared a letter with me that she wrote to her daughter upon graduation. The letter itself is beautiful and full of loving detail, but the daughter’s response was sweet as well–giving her mother a hug. I believe this letter from mother to daughter may have more impact on the child as she grows into a young woman and, perhaps, has children of her own.
And the beauty of a letter is that it can be cherished and re-read over and over finding new meaning and importance in the words as the reader changes with time and experience.
Here is the letter:
My dear daughter:
Words cannot begin to describe how proud I am of you. When we decided to bring our second child into the world we didn’t do this lightly. As parents, we want a perfect world for our kids, but know this is not reality. You have become a very giving, caring, awesome young lady and this world will be so much better off with you in it. You can make this world a better place!
You have always been brave and a leader. In preschool, your teacher told me after playtime you had no problem telling the other kids that “This goes here and put that there.” Your braveness was evident with you never being bashful to ask for things. For example, when you were three years old at McDonald’s you would go ask the cashier to exchange your toy if it wasn’t the one you had wanted.
I learn from you every day. I find myself coming to you for advice often, and you always have it! You are an amazing, caring person who always looks out for the little guy.
College starts in a few months, and it will be an exciting new chapter in your life. It will be an opportunity to explore who you are and discover what you want to be. Success is not measured by the money you make but by the goodness you do for others.
Pursue your dreams, look to God for guidance and enjoy life my sweet daughter!
I love you with all my heart,
I hope you feel encouraged to write a letter to your child or loved one. If you would like to share you letter, please contact me at Letters@LastGoodbyeLetters.com
I have a long time friend who was dying of cancer. In fact, she passed away just this morning. She was doing better and we thought she would pull through, but two weeks ago she took a drastic turn for the worst. I stopped by to visit her several times. I brought over food. I sent positive text messages to her and her husband. But really, at the beginning of all this I thought to myself, “what can I do for my friend?”
In spite of this blog, it took me a while to think about writing her a letter. When I did think of writing her, I was nervous. My friend is so brilliant and introspective, and thoughtful and dynamic. I wasn’t sure what to write. Just as many of you are unsure. But I followed my steps about how to write a letter and I did it. And, the last step–giving it to your loved one–was hard. Because my letter wasn’t really very good. It didn’t say anything earth-shaking. It seemed so inadequate.
But the point is that I DID write the letter and I DID give it to her. My friend read it when I left the room; when I returned and as I was leaving she said, “thank you.” That was enough.
I’m glad I didn’t wait to write the letter and deliver it. The next time I saw my friend, even though she was to live a while longer, she would not have been capable of reading my letter because she was too weak. Someone could have read it to her, but then she would miss making her observation to me, “I especially like the letterhead.” (I had typed it on business stationery!) And I would’ve missed that last loving, sassy remark from my friend.
I’m glad I didn’t wait to write the letter and deliver it. Now I feel a peace knowing that she knew for certain how important she is/was to me, how she inspired me.
I’m glad I didn’t wait to write the letter and deliver it. One never knows what tomorrow will bring.
I encourage you to write a letter to your loved one. To your mother for Mother’s Day. To your son who is graduating. To your daughter who is leaving your family and starting her own.
I will share my letter (as bush-league as it is) in a later post.