When she was twenty five and he was twenty seven Arline Feynman, first wife to the future Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman, died of tuberculosis. When he too died, forty three years later, Richard’s family found among his estate an unopened letter he wrote to Arline after she passed. He told her, among other things, that he still loved her, that no other woman he had met since she left could match her.
Two years ago I flew to Dublin with my parents for my auntie’s wedding. Our journey from the airport was long and stressful because a car had crashed on the motorway nearby causing a jam and we, already irritated the way travellers who fly coach are, were squashed in a small car and our driver kept making wrong turns, but once we finally arrived at our guest house our host was waiting at the front door to welcome us in.
We ate Chinese from the local takeaway for dinner while our host got acquainted with us and my mother let slip that I was a trainee counsellor. I noticed our host’s mood shift ever so slightly and she told us that when her father had died years ago she saw a therapist who encouraged her to write a letter to him so she could say all the things she never got a chance to say now that he was gone.
Can writing be therapeutic? Absolutely. It was for Richard and our host and I’m sure I’ll still have things to say to my loved ones when they’ve passed even if we’ve had plenty of time to talk while they were still alive.
In the postscript of his letter to Arline, Richard writes:
“Please excuse my not mailing this – but I don’t know your new address.”