How to Write a Goodbye Letter to an Aunt That Passed Away

Reading your letter at your aunt's graveside can help you release her.
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The death of your aunt could leave you with unfinished words to say to her, according to Larry A. Platt, Ph.D., a professor of sociology specializing in death and grief, in the article, “When Death Comes Unexpectedly.” Writing a letter to your aunt can allow you to express your grief and find the closure necessary to let any remaining issues or regrets go.

1 Express Your Feelings

Express your thoughts as you might if your aunt was sitting in front of you and you could say anything to her. Communicate your feelings honestly and fully so you aren’t left feeling that you still have unfinished business. It’s OK to express whatever feelings you truly feel, even if they are negative ones. Your aunt isn’t going to be angry about whatever you write. You don’t have to justify your feelings or apologize for what you feel. Grief is a very personal thing, and it can be hard to let go, especially if a death was unexpected or sudden.

2 Release the Unfinished

Include details about whatever you feel is unfinished, such as apologizing if your last words were in anger or if you never got to thank her for something she did. No one else has to see the letter, so you can be as frank and truthful as you would like. It might help to consider how your aunt might have responded to the information if she was still alive, as long as the response you imagine is positive and helpful in dealing with your grief.

3 Address Reflective Questions

Psychotherapist Alexandra Kennedy suggests asking yourself questions as you reflect on your relationship with your aunt, using the answers to those questions to write about what you miss, appreciate and regret about your relationship with your aunt, what you learned from her or what you want to carry on after her death. You might also write about events that your aunt has missed since her death if you write the letter after time has passed, perhaps to honor her birthday or other significant occasion.

4 Delivering the Letter

There are various ways to handle the letter after it’s written. Take the letter to the cemetery and read it aloud at your aunt’s graveside, suggests Susan Zonnebelt-Smeenge, a clinical psychologist, and Robert C. De Vries, a pastoral counselor, in the article, “Specific Ways to Work on Your Grief.” If you'd like to reread the letter, save the letter in a journal with other mementos about your aunt. Another option is to burn it in a fire pit to send its essence up toward wherever you envision your aunt’s spirit is now, or you can put the letter inside a balloon or tape it to a kite and send it skyward and release it. You can wave goodbye as your words soar away.

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.