By: OpenWhenGone.
Published: August 29. 2023.

A Full Guide to Writing Posthumous Letters

Posthumous letters, sometimes referred to as "legacy letters", offer an opportunity for individuals to communicate messages to loved ones after they have passed away. These letters can provide comfort, guidance, and a lasting connection to those left behind. Creating such a heartfelt letter may require deep introspection, emotional awareness, and clarity of purpose. Here's a guide to writing a posthumous letter that will resonate and provide solace to its readers.


Understand the Purpose

Before you begin writing, take a moment to understand the essence of a posthumous letter. At its core, it can be a way to:

  • Share wisdom and life lessons.
  • Express love and gratitude.
  • Provide closure or address unresolved matters.
  • Offer guidance and blessings for the future.
  • Leave a lasting legacy for future generations.
  • Simply leave a kind joke or pieces of shared memories.

Choose Your Recipients

A posthumous letter can be directed to:

  • An individual: such as a child, spouse, or dear friend.
  • A group: like your entire family or a particular community.
  • The public: in the case of public figures or those with widespread influence.
Determine who you want to address and the specific message you want to convey to each recipient.

Create a Comfortable Environment

Writing a personal and profound letter can be emotionally challenging. Choose a setting that makes you feel at peace. This might be a quiet room, a serene outdoor spot, or any place you associate with calmness and reflection. Alternatively, find an atmosphere that suits the tone you prefer for the letter.

Start with an Introduction

Begin your letter by setting the context. This also helps you set off your writing session.

  • You might write something profound like:
    "As I pen down these words, I'm not sure when they'll be read. But I hope they offer some solace, wisdom, or even a smile in the years to come."
  • Something more philosophical like:
    "It's strange to think that by the time you're reading this, I won't be around in the same way."
  • Maybe a more lighthearted version::
    "I've always been one for a bit of drama, haven't I? Here's my last attempt! Jokes aside, I hope this letter finds you with a warm heart and an open mind."
  • Or simply a traditional greeting such as::
    "Dear Peter,"
Choose or adapt an introduction that best captures the emotion and sentiment you wish to convey in your posthumous letter. Remember, authenticity is key, so pick something that feels true to you and your relationship with the recipient(s).

If Struggling; Just Draft - Revisit Later

It may be difficult or even intimidating to write the perfect letter. Don't stress yourself and simply get thoughts down on paper. Corrections to language and spelling can come at a later time. And also don't aim for perfection. As you evolve, so might your sentiments and beliefs. Periodically revisiting the letter ensures that it remains a genuine reflection of who you are.

Be Authentic and Honest

This isn't the time to wear masks or hold back. Speak from the heart. Share your joys, regrets, dreams, and even fears. Your raw, genuine emotions will make the letter all the more poignant.

Let your emotions flow freely. Whether it's love, regret, hope, or joy, allow yourself to be vulnerable and share your true feelings. Imagine that you are a recipient and how it must feel to receive a heartfelt letter.

While it might be tempting to use familiar phrases or sayings, it's essential to communicate your genuine thoughts and feelings. Avoid cliches that don't genuinely represent your sentiments. Here are some tips for sounding genuine:

  • Share Personal Stories
    Real-life experiences and anecdotes create an authentic narrative. These stories are not just recollections of past events but also convey your interpretations and the lessons you've derived from them. Besides creating emotional connections, this authenticates you as the author, should there be any doubts.
  • Acknowledge Imperfections
    Nobody's life is free from mistakes or regrets. Recognize and embrace your imperfections and share how they contributed to your growth or gave you a unique perspective.
  • Stay True to Your Voice
    Write as you speak, or as you would communicate with the specific recipient(s). Don't adopt a tone or vocabulary that isn't naturally yours. Your loved ones will connect more deeply with words that sound like they come directly from you.
  • Be Open About Your Intentions
    Clearly state why you're writing this letter. Whether it's to provide closure, share wisdom, or merely to express love, being transparent about your purpose adds an authentic touch.
  • Seek Feedback (If You Choose)
    Sometimes, sharing your letter with a trusted friend or family member before it's meant to be read can help ensure authenticity. They can provide feedback on whether it feels genuine and true to your character.

Remember, a posthumous letter is one of the most personal and intimate legacies you can leave behind. Authenticity ensures that this legacy is a true representation of who you are, offering genuine comfort, wisdom, and connection to those reading it.

Create Happy Endings

Think about how you want your recipient(s) to feel and react. Make sure that they sit back with a smile on their face and not a heavy heart. Inspire them to celebrate your life, the good times, and the lessons, rather than dwell in the sorrow of loss. A perspective that celebrates life can help in the healing process. Let them know if it is okay to share or to talk about the letter with someone else (perhaps specify who), if it is needed.

If your letter becomes very emotional, or you know that the recipient will react immensely, why not include an additional letter with a short lighthearted story or your favorite jokes that they can read afterwards to ease their emotions.

Share Stories, Love and Gratitude

Taking inspiration from Janelle Breese Biagioni, author of A Lifetime of Words, sharing stories helps keep memories alive. Talk about significant life events, the lessons you've learned, and the values you cherish. Use anecdotes to illustrate points and make the message relatable.

Furthermore, talk about the special moments you shared with the recipient, the support they gave you, and the love you felt. Expressing gratitude can be therapeutic for you and comforting for the readers, while it confirms that they were important and your relationship was full.

Provide Closure and Look to the Future

If there are unresolved matters or feelings of guilt and regret, address them. A posthumous letter is a chance to offer or ask for forgiveness, bringing potential healing to both parties.

Offer words of encouragement and guidance for the reader's future. It could be as specific as advice on a particular matter or as general as wishing them love and happiness.

The conclusion of a posthumous letter offers a moment of reflection, closure, and forward-looking sentiments. It's the lasting impression, the resonance that lingers with the reader long after they've finished the letter. Expanding on final thoughts entails not just rounding off the message but offering a sense of peace, hope, and enduring connection.

Keep it Safe and Accessible

Your letter is a precious gift. Store it in a safe place, like a sealed envelope in a drawer or a safety deposit box. Alternatively, give it to a trusted individual, such as a lawyer or close friend, with instructions on when and how it should be delivered.

Naturally, being a posthumous platform, we also recommend registering here on OpenWhenGone and creating your letters digitally. This way you don't have to worry about your recipients opening letters before the appropriate time arrives, and you will always have them at hand for new input and enhancement. Furthermore, you have the option to schedule letters for a continuous connection, keeping your legacy alive.

Final Thoughts

A posthumous letter is more than just a bunch of words - it can be considered a bridge across time. Such letters have been cherished for generations, like e.g. the famous letter written by Sullivan Ballou during the American Civil War, expressing his profound love for his wife that, despite being immense in language, uses many of the mentioned subjects (look it up). By leaving behind your words and emotions, you offer a lasting legacy that might bring comfort, guidance, and warmth to the ones you love. It's important to note that such letters might not be used as official legal documents.

By keeping these guidelines in mind, you can craft a posthumous letter that stands as a testament to your life, love, stories and the wisdom you wish to pass on.

We update our articles regularly. If you wish to add your story or tips here, or perhaps in a full article, feel free to reach out to us. Your experiences will help others who may be in need of guidance. Thank you for reading.