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  • Writer's pictureEric Fisher

4 ways to correspond with deceased loved ones

Updated: Jan 29

When you think of correspondence, what often comes to mind? Old-fashioned letter writing between pen pals? Phone calls, emails, or virtual chats with a professional colleague when consulting on a current therapy case? Writing someone a message on social media? Discussing elements of your dissertation with a university professor over email? There are many examples we can think of. The type of correspondence I’m talking about here involves the continuing relationship with a loved one we have lost after they’re deceased. The relationship continues, albeit in a different form. We will inspect four different methods for correspondence with someone we know who is no longer living.

  1. Writing a letter. You may be wondering how this works since this was mentioned in the examples above. A person can write a letter and address it to someone who has died. They could speak about their present struggles with grief. They might write about how their everyday life is going. Feelings and thoughts about the loss may be brought up, how much they miss the person who’s gone. The door is wide open with possibilities for what to write. Examples of letter writing include sending to another email address you’ve set up. If available, put the letter in the mailbox and take it out later. Writing the letter, then burning the letter. Someone may use postcards. Write the letter and save it in a memory box, which represents a box of memories - keepsakes and other objects that remind you of the loved one that’s been lost. There is no set length for the letter writing or how long you have to work on each letter. The only caveat is not to spend excessive amounts of time at the expense of alternate activities for you and socially with others. A balance needs to be in play. The letter writing can be done more than once. You may compare the content across multiple letters and see how you’ve moved forward with your grief in specific ways.

  2. Photographs/scrapbooks/family albums. I’ve had folks show me pictures of a loved one who has died. It is a great way to get to know the real-life characters in their story. If you are a therapist and find out a client has a photo album, ask them to bring it in. If you are talking with a therapist, bring the photo album without being prompted. That can be electronic on a phone or classic 35mm photographs in an album. Each picture tells a story. Each photo album displays an overarching narrative showcasing themes and experiences for the survivor and the deceased. If you’ve lost someone, bringing the photo albums out or scrolling through your phone’s camera roll is okay. Doing this more than once, even several times, is okay. Some people, even family members, may not want you to revisit pictures if avoidance is how they cope with the loss. Utilize what you need to do for your grieving process.

  3. Music. Create playlists of the songs the loved one enjoyed listening to with or without you. Create a playlist of songs that remind you of the person you’ve lost. Make your songs if you are musically inclined, be it electronic, with a single instrument, or multiple instruments. Devise lyrics for a song (or songs) dedicated to the person lost. Listen to the music often. Write a journal article about thoughts, feelings, and sensations during and after listening to the music. Music is the window to the soul. Listening can be a way to get in touch with you and the person who has passed on.

  4. Photonarratives. An example is spotting a tree that has fallen in the woods and realizing the tree was meant to fall at that time. Someone makes the connection that a loved one, as painful as it was, was meant to depart at a specific time. The person captures a photo of the fallen tree. Anything in the environment reminds us of who or what has been lost. You can keep photos in an album on your phone or physically in an album.

Several years ago, while living in Mississippi, I would visit people I worked with professionally in their homes for therapy. On one occasion, a young man asked me to drive him to his mother’s grave in a cemetery situated in the local area. While we drove, he played his mother’s eulogy on a taper player in his lap. We drove around for quite some time, listening to the eulogy. Unfortunately, we could not find the proper cemetery for particular reasons. That was this young man’s correspondence with his deceased mother. It was unfortunate we could not find the grave. However, looking back, I was able to share that experience with him. He was able to correspond in the way he saw fit. That was all that mattered, and he wasn’t entirely upset, at least from what I saw, that we couldn’t find the grave site. I was given the sacred opportunity to share his experience as an observer and helper. I sincerely hope he found her grave later on.

I do hope that these four types of correspondence make sense to you. Some may resonate more than others. You may do more than one simultaneously, such as listening to music while flipping through a photo album. If that works for you, then that’s okay. Don’t judge the decision. Correspondence isn’t only for getting in touch with those we’ve lost but also tapping into our relationship with ourselves. We see where we are in our journey of grief. It is a correspondence with the deceased or what’s been lost, collaboration with yourself and others who may join if appropriate and permissible by you.

A person writing in a journal about personal concerns.

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