Have you noticed how often, in books or television, an orphaned hero or heroine gets a last letter from a dead parent? "Dear Child," it often begins, "if you are reading this, something bad has happened to me. Here's some advice you might find handy." It's often hard to suspend disbelief about the arrival of such letters. The parent writes it and arranges for the child to receive it at a far-off yet opportune moment, always exhibiting a prescient awareness of events years in the future while blind to the disaster right at their doorstep. Yet I completely understand the impulse to orchestrate such a message; often it's that fleeting, heartfelt connection to a dead loved one that motivates the hero/heroine to continue his/her journey.
A 2010 episode of This American Life just popped up in my podcast queue, Held Hostage. I just finished listening to the first act, which ended on a rather grim note. It described how people kidnapped in Colombia might find themselves held hostage for years, and so many people were held hostage at any given time that weekly radio shows sprang up so that family of the kidnapped could deliver messages over the airwaves, wishing their loved ones courage and strength in capitivity.
One of the stories was about a political prisoner who was held hostage for eleven years, with an interview from his teenaged daughter - a girl who'd never really known him. Ultimately the Colombian government attempted a rescue, forcing the kidnappers to beat a hasty retreat. So hasty, in fact, that they cut loose their excess baggage - their hostages - executing them all. But they found a diary with the executed political prisoner that he'd kept over the eleven years of his capitivity, with messages to his family, drawings of what he thought his daughter might look like.
Heartbreaking, and for once real. I'm flagging the story for myself and any other writers out there looking for a way to send plausible and emotionally wrenching letters to their characters from beyond the grave.