There’s nothing more devastating than losing a loved one, let alone losing a parent. Whether you’re 60 or 16, having to say goodbye to a parent who has supported, loved and looked out for you can truly alter the course of your life.
You continue to remember them, but in life’s biggest milestones, it’s difficult to not miss their presence. For many, the only thing left is the memories lived together and the stories shared by friends and family — oftentimes scattered throughout gatherings and conversations in years passing.
For Freya, a 32-year-old from Buckinghamshire, memories and stories were not the only heartwarming piece of her dad she held onto.
In the weeks before his passing, Freya’s dad wrote letters for her.
Before his passing, Freya’s father wrote letters for milestones in her life.
When her dad Philip was given the news of his cancer, Freya was forced to face the reality of the situation. Unexpectedly, doctors told her and her family they’d only have six months left with their father. Especially when dealing with sickness, accepting the fact that you have a set timeline before losing a loved one can be extremely overwhelming. Both for the sick and their family, the expectations and grief can be all-encompassing.
Like many children do when their parents are treated for a serious illness, Freya still holds those last weeks and months with her to remind her of her father’s strength. Ensuring no milestone was left unchecked, Freya’s dad used his last few weeks to write his young daughter letters to remind her of him. As the head of the household and the loving father and husband he was, his legacy goes far beyond just the letters he wrote for his daughter. However, when the memories are hard to recount or the smell of his cologne is hard to remember, his letters remain the foundation by which the family remembers his love.
Freya’s father passed from esophageal cancer when she was 11 years old.
After his passing, Freya held onto her father’s heartfelt letters as a reminder of his love and courageousness.
Bittersweet — that’s how Freya describes her big life milestones following her father’s death. Her 18th birthday, introducing her fiance to her mother, engagements — they all were painted with a smidge of sadness as Freya imagined her father’s missing presence.
“We got engaged in our fifth year [of dating],” Freya recounted to The Independent, “and we threw ourselves into wedding preparations — but, it was hard.”
Trying to imagine how she’d be able to honor her father’s legacy at her wedding, Freya and her soon-to-be husband planned to dedicate many aspects of their big day to him. With thousands of ways to remember a loved one at their wedding, the couple narrowed it down to a few. A diamond necklace from her father, steel pans down her aisle and a memory tree outside the venue were a few of the dedications made to her father’s memory and all the things he’d loved.
After the wedding, Freya’s mother read one last letter from her husband in lieu of the father-to-be’s speech.
As Freya’s mother stands next to her daughter at the wedding reception, she picks up the microphone to deliver a speech more emotional than many.
Pulling the letter out of her pocket, she tells the story of her late husband’s letters to their daughter before their passing — mentioning that this one, for her wedding day, was the last that he wrote.
“Today is your day, enjoy everything about it,” Freya’s dad says in the letter, “Laugh and cry. Be happy and confident.”
Stay together, grieve together, face everything in life together, her father suggests to his daughter and son-in-law.
“Don’t ever change. Love you forever, dad,” he wrote, signing off from almost a decade full of letters.
Grieving feels impossible but letters can help heal from loss.
While Freya was able to help grieve the loss of her dad through his words to her, oftentimes people suffering from loss don’t have letters like those to hold onto. Whether their family member passed suddenly or their relationship was less direct, reading letters from a loved one is not entirely feasible.
Regardless of the situation, everyone grieves in their own way. A Harvard Health study suggests letters as a way to combat that grief but in an unsuspecting way from the story above. Using a journal to help pour out feelings of grief or air out conversations you’d hoped to have with loved ones can help to improve mood, ease stress and aid with loss following the passing of a loved one.
So instead of reading them, you can write letters to loved ones who’ve passed. Or if that feels too difficult, you can write them to yourself — or to nobody. Just recounting and spilling out emotions can help to heal parts of you broken from loss.
So if you’re feeling desperate or heartbroken, and don’t have letters to connect you like Freya and her father’s, consider writing some of your own.