I went to Welwyn Garden City yesterday. I found myself in a warm, bright cafe attached to a community hall beside an enormous church; one of those churches that loom at you from the side of the road. I was visiting a group of carers and people involved in providing bereavement support in Hertfordshire. I had been invited to talk to them about the benefits of writing as part of bereavement counselling. I haven’t mentioned it here before, but this is something that has become a large part of my work in recent years. I’ll explain why on another day, but for the moment I’ll just mention that my book Writing in Bereavement, A Creative Handbook, was published last summer by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. You can find out more about it here: www.jkp.com/catalogue/book/9781849052122. When I go to talk about the book and this aspect of my work, I like to give people a live taste of how writing can enable us to express thoughts and feelings that might be difficult to talk about, or to say out loud to another person. Bereavement is one of those times when people may struggle to find the words to explain how they are feeling, and others struggle to listen, such is the sadness and even the taboo around loss. One of the techniques I offered to the group yesterday was a variation of the unsent letter; the idea of writing to someone to whom we cannot speak. The unsent letter can be used to express a whole range of emotions; anger, sadness, regret and love, for example. I like to suggest a letter of gratitude. Bereavement can feel very isolating, almost as if is no one else can help, even though there are often many who can and do offer support. The exercise I tried yesterday with this wonderfully willing and perceptive group, went like this. Begin by writing a list in answer to the question ‘What is helping me?’ The list can be as long or as short as you wish. I can include people (‘my friends’), animals (‘my dog’), mundane things (‘this cup of tea’), qualities, (‘my sense of humour’) and small acts of kindness (‘the person who held the door for me today’). When you have your list, choose something from it and write it a letter of gratitude. Tell it how it is helping you. Give examples and say how its help has made you feel. Begin your letter in the usual way; Dear…, and sign off with an appropriate expression; With love, or best wishes. When you read your letter back, notice how it feels to have expressed gratitude. And remember to thank yourself.