There was so much we had to say to each other.

The doctors had just given my father an estimated six more months of life, if and only if, he followed the regimented chemotherapy treatment. True to character and with much self-reflection, my father refused the treatment – deciding instead to “go it alone.” His loved ones were left with the unknown. How much time would he have without the chemo? What should we expect about end of life? How could we make his last days memorable and comfortable? I booked a flight to spend some one-on-one time with him – a treasured commodity in a family of nine. Time to touch him. Time to talk. To smell his musky smoky aura. To look in his eyes. To figure out how I could make it all better.

With a destination in the Midwest, the flight from our coastal home had a layover in Washington D.C. As I rode the people-mover to the terminal, my cell phone range. Directed to find a seat by my husband, he relayed the news that my father had passed away early that morning from a heart attack. How could this be? He was supposed to have months ahead. His diagnosis was cancer, not heart disease. A comforting thought about God’s mercy came to mind and heart. Still, instead of my much anticipated reunion, I was now headed to a funeral.

There was so much we had to say to each other.

Life just wasn’t the same, those first years afterward. My family’s usual jovial holiday celebrations seemed subdued and pensive. Back at home, it seemed that his death was the one topic I could not address in my daily journal writing. It was as if I had put the entire situation in a box on a shelf - high up in my bedroom closet. Clearly, I wasn’t ready to open that box.

There was so much we had to say to each other.

It was around that time that I was teaching a Write to Christ journal writing class at the local library that I decided to pull that box down off the bedroom shelf. I began writing that deeply personal letter to my dad. At first, the emotions poured out – sadness, anger, remorse, wonder, gratitude and finally joy. I cried a lot, even after all those months. I laughed. I smiled throughout, always picturing him with his slightly off-balance grin. I forgave and I asked forgiveness.

There was so much I had to say to him.

Later that year, my family and I traveled west to visit my mother for the Christmas holiday. I had planned to take one day on my own to visit my father’s final resting place. Pulling into the cemetery gates, I was pleasantly surprised to see and remember the rolling hill and gentle landscape of this special place. The sun shone brightly that day and reflected off the accumulated snow. I sloshed through the dripping pools of icicle water and approach the mausoleum. I felt a deep sense of serenity as a slight smile crossed my lips. My tense shoulders relaxed and I embarked on a mini-adventure of finding my father’s vault in the many hallways. I wander a bit – marveling at the delicate yet striking stained glass and finally found the correct way. Reaching into my purse, I felt around inside for that bulging envelope I had brought across the country. Opening the flap of the envelope, I re-read the letter to my dad one more time. Fresh tears flowed and a smile emerged onto my face. I tucked the letter back in its place and left it in a crevice. Turning to leave, I almost tripped on a large poinsettia plant on the floor. I stopped down to read the card. “To the love of my life – Merry Christmas.” It was signed by my mother.

When I returned back to the warmth and merriment of my mother’s home, I found my sisters and mother laughing and dancing in the kitchen while preparing dinner. The homey smell of candles, turkey and fresh baked apple pie filled my senses. I pulled my mom away from the stove, wrapping my arms around her for a big hug. I told her I had visited dad today. She simply smiled and nodded.

There was so much we didn’t need to say.

Six (6) Tips for Writing a Meaningful Unsent Letter

1) Choose your paper, favorite pen and your writing place. Will you write on stationery or in your journal? Find a comfortable place where you can be alone for a while.

2) Decide how you will dispose of or “deliver” the letter. Will you shred the letter? Burn it? Store it away in your journal in your closet?

3) Remembering that much of the power of the Unsent Letter lies in the release, make sure you are emotionally ready. Let the first part of the letter writing be a brain-dump. Write continuously and without judgment. Forget about grammar and punctuation. Just write from the heart.

4) Include forgiving and forgiveness in the letter. Author Carolyn Myss states that forgiveness leads to compassion, which leads to healing. If the third tip above was the release of the watershed, this tip is the calming of the seas. Slow down your writing and journal purposefully and mindfully. Ask forgiveness and grant forgiveness – even if you’d rather not.

5) Include good memories in your letter. Always end with a positive note and include gratitude for having spent time with that individual, or thankfulness for lessons learned.

6) Be gentle with yourself. Using the Unsent Letter technique of journal writing can be very powerful. Give yourself time to rest and decompress afterwards. Remember that this exercise is for you and your wellness.

Author's Bio: 

Debi Wacker is a Journal Coach and co-owner of  Write to Health, a creative writing adventure dedicated to helping people discover the healing benefits of journal writing. Write to Health’s journal circles explore and celebrate health through writing about spirituality, addiction recovery, cancer survivorship, life transition, grief process and life legacy. Write to Health’s online journal writing courses teach a variety of techniques including letter writing, clustering and lists. Inspirational blank journals and guided meditations complement the writing programs and help clients begin a writing practice in the comfort of their own homes. Debi is also co-author and publisher of The Sacred Purse, a collaborative book of women’s poetry and essays, and continues work on her first novel. She is president of LightSource Marketing, a marketing and business development consulting firm with offices in Virginia Beach and Washington D.C. Debi specializes in strategic and market planning, program design and development, and copywriting. Debi recently returned to the college campus as a part-time professor. Reach her at debi@writetohealth.com.