Letters to the Dead
The silence of my sister’s house after her daughter died was interrupted by the constant chime of her daughter’s phone. It gave me an uncomfortable feeling realizing the her friends were trying to reach her and didn’t know that she died.
But days later, when the chime frequency rose instead of falling, I realized that they knew Rachel was dead and they were reaching out to her anyway…
So I wondered, what were those friends of her saying?
Were they distraught and seeking comfort? Mad that Rachel had died? Frustrated about some unfinished business?
And I wondered… have we always tried to talk to our loved ones after they’ve died?
We have. There are fifteen letters written as early as 2686 BC to relatives that had recently died. They were found on linen, papyrus and even written in wooden bowls. The geographic spread of where these messages were discovered suggests that it was usual to communicate with the dead in this fashion.
What is really interesting about these ancient letters is the content of them. They have the tone of a letter written to your relative who just got that promotion at work…mostly pleas to intervene for circumstances such as disputes over property or ill health.
These letters don’t express sorrow at the absence of a loved one, it’s as if their relatives are still part of their lives. This is fascinating to me because it gives strong evidence of their assumption of life after death.
You can read more about these letters here.
More recent letters, typed instead of written on linen, portray our confusion and loss.
In a letter from 1946, a husband tells his wife that he finds it “hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead”. But it’s very clear he does…he speaks of meeting other women but that they “all seem ashes” and closes his letter proclaiming “…I do adore you.”
We’ve gone beyond typewriters and now you can post your letter to your loved one online. Websites like aftertalk.com offer grief blogs and inspirational quotes, grief counseling resources and the ability to have private conversations with friends and family.
One beautiful website, Letters to the Dead is a “place to say what needs to be said…to those who are not here physically.” Letters are posted that allows the writer an opportunity for closure--
“I had to leave north before you left us, and because of that I couldn’t properly say goodbye. That still eats at me, a year and half later. I miss you. I wanted to say goodbye.”
Sometimes they express anger--
“I always thought I’d see you again, when we were old and gray and it couldn’t hurt any more. People in your family didn’t die young, after all. Your much older sisters are both alive, 10 years after your death. Damn it, Doug. Damn it. I always thought I’d see you again.”
Some give you a glimpse of the pain when you lose your child--
“I miss the hot press of you against my chest in the night, after reading stories of trucks, after singing silly songs, after endless rocking. There was always a moment when you finally gave in to sleep, when you tucked your head into my breast, wrapped your arms around my neck and tangled your hands so thoroughly in my curls that later, after I’d woken, I had to untangle us like a knot.”
I wish for two things.
I hope these letters give the writers some solace.
I believe that there is life after death and I hope that, like ancient times, these writers recognize that our loved ones will always be a part of our lives.
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