To encapsulate your past and/or process your feelings, try this: Write a letter to past or future self, past nemesis, or anyone with (or about) whom you have unresolved feelings. Such rhetorical letters are a great way to share and process your past. The “recipient” doesn’t have to be able to receive your letter for it to make sense for you to write—and share.
Write a letter to yourself
I remember rolling my eyes when my mother told us that she has written a letter to her future self. Afraid that she’d develop dementia and become a burden on us, she wrote to her future self explaining why a nursing home would be her best option. My eye-rolling aside, getting her thoughts on paper calmed my mother’s worries.
You don’t have to address such ominous subjects when you write a letter to yourself. Recently Terri Giuliano Long’s Her Books blog featured eight authors’ letters to their 20-year-old selves. Each of these authors’ letters would make a wonderful legacy to pass on. OK, I admit that, as authors, they might have an edge in writing, but the forum of the letter to themselves is part of what makes each letter poignant. If they wrote a daughter or niece to “Worry less about what others think. You’re too self-conscious,” as Rachel Thompson wrote to herself, it might come off as presumptuous. However, words to their former selves aren’t off-putting, and loved ones can glean wisdom from their sentiments.
Deal with a childhood bully? Adult nemesis? Were you a victim of a crime? Are there things you wish you’d said to this person at the time? Do you still have something that you’d like to get off your chest? These unresolved emotions will resonate with loved ones when you write a letter to your past tormentor or bane of your existence.
There’s another inspiring authors’ letter writing: Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories. We’ve all known a bully; we can connect with these writers’ experiences. Think how much more meaningful it would be to read such a letter written by a close friend or relative!
Some of us may have been a bully or nemesis. Whether you write a letter to a perpetrator or victim, the exercise does more than help us process the past. These letters reveal who we were then and who we are now. When you share such letters, your readers (loved ones) get to see both sides of the coin.
Write a Letter to Deceased Loved Ones, Mysterious Strangers, or….
Often, after a loved one dies, the things that we wish we’d said, what we wish we’d said more often, or even things we wish we’d kept to ourselves haunt us. We crave an opportunity for that last goodbye or “I love you.”
It’s not just the unsaid that keeps us awake at night. We wish we could tell our loved ones that we landed on our feet, that we’ve found our path, or just share all the tidbits of life they’ve missed.
Death is not the only thing that prevents us from communicating with loved ones. For instance, you can write a letter to an infant, to a hospitalized relative, or even to a total stranger. (See Letter to a Mystery Man.)
Writing such rhetorical letters do more than narrate your memories. They are a vehicle for showing (and telling) how these memories affected you and your life journey.
To whom do you want to write a letter? Don’t be shy. Leave your ideas in the comments section.