Right now, I am watching the sunset. It is gorgeous, and I am happy.
It occurred to me that this might be strange for you to hear, all these years later. I was so sure that I’d never be happy without you, but here I am, more than 5 years after you left this earth and I am telling you that it is true.
I am happy.
So if you can somehow access this letter, I want you to know I’ve been thinking of you. I’ve been thinking of all that has changed since you left us and all that is somehow just as you imagined it back then.
When you were dying, you looked into my eyes and told me that everything was going to be okay. You knew you were going to die and I knew you were going to die so we both knew we weren’t talking about you somehow magically getting well. What you were telling me was that I was going to be okay. You believed in me so fully that you never doubted I would make it through the grief of losing you and the other horrors I would face. You told me I would be okay.
You were wrong.
You were wrong that I would be able to pick up the pieces quickly. You knew I’d grieve but I don’t think you imagined that I’d be crying on the floor of the bathroom shower 14 months after you were gone, so bereft I couldn’t even fully voice it to my closest friends.
You were wrong that I would be rational in the months after your death. You thought I could deal with all the financial and logistical details that you left behind, but really, I could not. I had to get a lot of help. I had to swallow my pride all the time.
You were wrong that I would be able to seamlessly transition back to my regular life after your death. You didn’t imagine that I would wake up with screaming nightmares, ones that disturbed the house so much that sometimes Claire ran into our room, worried about me. You were wrong that I would be able to function normally at school events and parties and at work, when all I thought about was losing you.
You were wrong about so much.
But when you told me I would be okay, you were right about that too.
You were right that our friends and family would support me, though I didn’t fully appreciate all the ways that would look. You couldn’t have known that my dad would end up staying for years, that my friends would help me get on dating apps when I felt the time was right, that I’d need my community for much, much longer than the 6 months when they brought food – and that they would be there for me, even after it seemed like “everything was okay,” because it really wasn’t.
You were right that I could parent the kids through the loss of their father. Though it was terrible, we survived it and we built a new family – not just once, but twice. You were right that we all were resilient enough to make it through without you.
You were right that I’d find someone new. You knew it would take time and you almost nailed it with how long it would be before I could really open my heart to someone new. You knew you had to tell me that, even when I didn’t want to hear it.
You were right, thank God.
But in this letter I don’t just want to tell you all the ways that you were right and wrong. I also want to tell you about the things you couldn’t know, all those years ago.
The kids – they are great. You knew this would be true but you also couldn’t see the future, because what parent can? Could you really imagine Tommy all potty-trained and reading chapter books, Austin starring in a musical or Claire standing as tall as I do?
Tommy is the most similar to his 3-year-old self, though now he’s just turned 9. He’s the kid that everyone says is the happiest kid they know, the one who still snuggles with me in the morning and the one who hugs everyone when he leaves a party. He is joy personified, because he does not know any other way to be. He has reached for love over and over again, and because he has reached for it, he has always found it.
Austin is not the shy kid he once was, and though he’s approaching the teen years, he is still just as sure of who he is as he was when he was 6. He still protects his brother, still works hard in school and still always helps me. There are times when he is doing his homework and his focus looks just like you, bent over a book like you always were.
Claire is a teenager, and on the precipice of high school. She has a strong spirit, as she always has had, and she goes after what she wants – she’s even flown across a foreign country without me. It’s different, to be with teenage Claire, but that same 8-year-old is in there, the one who always thought everything in this world was “the best” even when things really weren’t. She could see beyond the rainstorm then, and she can see it now.
And I am happy too. Right now, as I am watching the sun set off our balcony, I can hear the funny tropical birds around me and I feel one thing: contentment. I wanted you to know this, specifically – that I feel joy in this moment, in February of 2023. I am not in the same house where we lived, though I’ll return to it this summer. Right now I am thousands of miles away on a grand adventure, one that is not always smooth but one that has been filled with more experiences that I can write here. And the kids? All three of them understand so much beyond the world in which they were born…and they can all order food at a restaurant in perfect Spanish.
Coming here was not the first risk I took, not by a long shot. Your death, which shocked and horrified me in every way possible, somehow made me into a person who is much less afraid of convention, and a person who welcomes a lot more risk.
That’s how I met my husband, Chris. Because as I said, I found love again. It certainly wasn’t right away, though I tried dating in that first year of widowhood. But really, I didn’t want to let anyone in back then. It was over two years later when I took a huge risk letting Chris in to my life and into the kids’ lives. And it was the best risk I’ve taken – I know that for sure. He is good and he is kind and he makes our lives so much fun. And, most important, he loves me and the kids more than anything. That’s an important thing you share with him.
It is a happy life we have, all these years later. It is one I couldn’t see at all, back in that hospital room when you looked at me and told me that I would be okay without you – that I could have happiness in my future. I didn’t believe you at all.
But somehow, as you lay dying, you could see it for me.
We miss you, today and always.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington.