The first nugget of this story came to me a few years ago. I’m old enough now that we’ve lost friends (to cancer and other diseases and accidents)—friends with small children. Friends who were amazing people who deserved to live on for years…decades…into perpetuity. Impossible, I know, but I’m telling you, love and caring should NEVER end.
Hence, my idea for an entire book, however long it turns out to be, of letters. Letters of love sent for each moment in a spouse’s and children’s life a wife and mother can imagine. Letters that give that metaphorical shoulder to cry on, a body to scream at, the arms that embrace as grief rips at not one’s sanity.
I’m not going to lie. This project makes me cry. Sob, even. I have three children—yes, all girls!—a loving, amazing man. So, maybe, these are my letters to my family. They aren’t meant to be…but they are. Because love IS and should be celebrated.
What I need to know from you, dear readers (like my Austen reference?) is if I should continue this project. The pace will be slow. I have to fit this in around my other deadlines, kids’ myriad practices and tournaments, Shakespeare rehearsals and performances, the occasional night out with my amazing husband, dog walks, illnesses, unexpected tragedies, and moment of just being.
If you want to stick with me as I create this world, let me know. If, however, you have no interest, let me know. That way I focus on other important details. Like hugging my family more often.
The Letters by Alexa Padgett
There’s so much more I wanted to say to you. To do. I’d planned to see the new wrinkles form on your face, to watch your hair turn white and hopefully not fall out. To see you thicken with your later years. To hold your hand gnarled with arthritis.
I’m crying so probably you are, too.
We didn’t get those year, and I feel gipped. Angry. No, actually, I’m down right pissed about my death. But as I write this, the pain from the tumors eats at me. It’s tearing me up inside, Jake. I can feel my body shutting down. If I stayed any longer, I would’ve been a burden, emotionally and financially. I’m not sure there’s anything worse.
I’m still fucking pissed the chemo didn’t work. Not so much for me but for you and the girls.
Will you do something for me? At my funeral, don’t be stolid and strong. That’s crap. Cry if you need to. Hold the girls. Take comfort in and from them and everyone else who comes (It damn well better be the whole PTA – ten years at that school should’ve gotten me a roomful of parents glad it wasn’t them who’s dead.)
If you choose to eulogize me, make me sound smart, fun, sexy. No platitudes. I was me, and I loved you and our girls, but you know I wasn’t perfect. Don’t let anyone pretend I was. Remember that time at the stables when Madison wanted to learn to ride and I fell in the mud next to the horse? Yeah, don’t bring that up.
I’ve tried to think of every moment you could want me there with you. The girls, too. That’s what these letters are. Me, doing my best to be with you even after death. I’ll probably screw it up some. I don’t know how you’ll change. But know that I love you. Same goes for our girls.
You’re the one I worry about the most in these first months. Such a tough age, fifteen. Almost an adult. I’m going to miss our talks. Not that you’ll miss me explaining contraceptives and how to avoid bad decision-making. Yeah, I know you’re rolling your eyes at me. You’re welcome.
I’m so sorry the cancer kept eating me. If I could’ve fought it longer, I would have. For you and your sisters. Your dad – well, I know how much it hurt him to see me like that. Talk about feeling torn. From the time I got the diagnosis, there wasn’t going to be a perfect Disney ending.
So I want you to know I love you. I’ll always love you.
Are you back now? If you ripped this when you wadded it in a ball, then I guess you won’t see me tell you I’m not sure about the whole angel looking down from on-high business, but if I can manage that, I will.
Where to begin? Are you buried under your covers with your night light? I loved that soft pink glow it gives off. I always thought it made you look angelic when you were sleeping. Lord knows you weren’t always when you were awake.
I was so mad that time you you dumped your “potion” all over Adriana. First of all – All my saffron, really? Second, Adriana’s eyes were red for to days. Whatever you put in there made my hands itch and all I did was scrub it off Adri.
What I wouldn’t give to hug you tight. Smooth those crazy curls off your forehead. You are a bright, beautiful young lady. When you’re ready, look in the back of your undies drawer. Way in the back. Did you find the package?
I figured you wouldn’t want to ask Dad to get you bras. He’ be more embarrassed than you, that’s for sure. I tucked another in the back of Adri’s draw. Would you save it for her? I know it sucks to have to mom her, but she was so little… I worry about her in ways I don’t you or Maddie. You are so damn stubborn I know you locked your jaw instead of crying during this I know.
Tuck me under your pillow tonight. I want to be with you when your breath evens out. I want to be with you when you dream. Make it a good one. Maybe I’ll join you there. If I can, I will. I’ll hug you tight all night long. I’d hug you forever if I could.
I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to die. I wanted to watch you go to fourth grade. I wanted to help you with your science fair projects and show you how to deadhead my roses. I wanted to cheer at your soccer games. I wanted to teach you how to French braid – don’t ask Maddie, she’s bad at it.
Do you remember that board book we used to read when you were little? The one with the nut brown hares? It’s on your shelf. When you turn to the last page, know I touched it many times this week while you were at school. Know that I cried because I do – I love you to the moon and back.
I always will.
Hugs, kisses and love,
If you haven’t already, throw away all the food that’s in the fridge. Some of it has to have fantastic mold growth. Chuck those containers. No one needs to get sick right now on top of everything you’re dealing with. Ask Cammie to go to the grocery store. I gave her a list and money. If you don’t call her soon, she’ll show up. Hug her for me, will you?
I love you.
I figured you needed another letter because you cried all over the last one. I hope waiting a couple of weeks was long enough to let you settle down.
I know you’re pissed I died. I am, too. I was going to be a really fun grandma. I already planned out all the ways I was going to spoil your kids. I’d’ve been the fun one. You would’ve been so mad at me!
I miss your laugh, dolly. I miss the way you throw your head back and your eyes crinkle. Sorry. I shouldn’t have written that. Just know dying is hard on me, too.
Don’t let the sadness pull you too low, derail your dreams. You’re so bright, so special. You have such an amazing future ahead.
So a couple pieces of advice you don’t want. I’m still your mom. It’s my job. J
- Get organized. Seriously. This is the biggest problem you must overcome. Remember how I told you you don’t have to like it? That’ll always hold true. Just do it. Lay out your week ahead of time if you can. The calendar app is a fabulous tool.
- Love people who deserve it and who love you back just as fiercely. Your sisters, for one, even if Renee does go out of her way to be obnoxious. That’s her love shining through her arbitrary personality. Your dad. He’s going to need you now in ways he never did before. Thank God you wanted to learn how to cook. You’re much better at it than he is. Do not let him near my brownie recipe. Remember not to over bake! Dry brownies suck.
Sorry, my mind seems to wander. When I said love, I mean that special someone later in your life. Be open to what you can have with them. Don’t let my dying make you fearful of taking that step. Love is the best. Grab it with both hands. It may not last forever, but it’s so worth the ride.
Are you sitting in the dark? I bet you didn’t read this right at one month. Did you wait two? Three? I hate that tears are swimming in your beautiful eyes. I hate like hell that you miss me.
Stupid fucking cancer. You and the girls need to scream that—into pillows, in the back yard. Stupid fucking cancer.
We were supposed to celebrate our twentieth anniversary in Hawaii. Can you believe we would have been married twenty years? We were so young. So in love.
Will you do something for me? Use my life insurance money and take the girls. Create memories for you, together. Adri wants to see the lava. Maddie’s going to insist on sunning on the beach—let her for one of the days. She needs the time to think and heal. Renee’s giving you hell, I know. Try to be patient.
I miss you. And I will. For always.
How was Hawaii? Did you like snorkeling? Did you see a dolphin? Touch a sting ray?
I hope you took some pictures. Start doing that, please. You’ll remember better than your sisters. One day you’ll wish you had the photos. Memories get hazy.
I tucked a photo album under the couch. When you’re ready, pull it out. Remember our mud pie contest?
I loved catching lizards with you and Maddie. The look on your face when that one bit you was priceless. See it? That’s why you need to take the pictures.
I miss you, baby girl.
You’re an amazing dad. You got them through this year. The worst one from what I read on various grief web sites. I know it was exhausting. I know you’re teary-eyed as you realize you’ve been through one of every holiday without me. That I can’t walk through the door and take your cheeks between my cold hands. You hated when I did that but you always kissed me back, rubbing your lips over mine just as you did that very first time we kissed.
I’ve been thinking about how you kiss often. How it’s a conversation. First the light touch – should it be deeper, harder, lighter? How your hands settle on my hips before one slides up my back and into my hair. How your thumb rubs across the nape of my neck. How, whenever I’m in your arms, I feel cherished.
I hope I gave you some of that back. I loved you, Jacob. Maybe I didn’t always love you the best I could. I was moody. I’m sorry you had to try to coax me back to happiness so often. And you did. You always did. You and your damn diabolical sense of humor.
When you hug the girls today, hold them a little longer for me. I’m sure they’ve changed so much this year. I bet Renee’s taller, almost even with Maddie. And I bet it’s something you’ve noticed but not really paid attention to.
I hope Adri’s tears have dried by now. I hope the hole in your heart is shrinking as you move on with your life.
Thank you for loving our girls for me. Thank you for taking the next step, and the next. If you stumble, I’m there, loving you. Rooting for you. I’m there, next to you if you want to talk or reminisce or just be mad at me for dying.
You deserve to be mad. I shouldn’t have left you alone. I’m so, so sorry I did. I’d tell you in person if I could.
Can you believe it? You’re in double digits! Ten. Wow. I’ve tried to picture what you’ll look like – is your hair long or short? I’m thinking in between and browner. Maybe as dark as Maddie’s.
Are the freckles on your nose fading? Did you eyes deepen into a richer gray? I bet your lips are still that sweet cupid’s bow and you hate that dimple. No one else has one there. It’s special, like you. I used to kiss that spot all the time, my little sweet pea.
I bet you’re long and lean like Maddie. I bet you’re looking forward to your party. I hope someone made your special strawberry cake. Every time I made that for you, I thought of just how sweet you made my life.
When you were a baby, I used to lay you on the pillow next to me in bed and just stare at you for hours, shocked over and over by all your perfection. Your smile lit up my heart and your laugh – from the very first time – was contagious. You could make me laugh faster and longer than anyone.
Don’t tell Renee, but you have better timing for jokes. Always have. It’s because of your super-bright mind. I hope you’re applying yourself in school. You’re going to be a powerhouse. Aim high. Don’t settle. Own ten.
Sending hugs and love,
You’re officially a junior. How does that feel? Lord, you’re growing up so fast. I hope you liked your birthday card. Do not, I repeat, do not let Renee talk you into giving her half your birthday money. When you wear the cute new clothes, think of me.
Got a boyfriend? If so, tell me about him. Would I like him? If not, who do you like? Will you see him this summer?
Will you do me a favor? Don’t party too hard. Don’t get drunk at a party. Your dad’s got enough going right now trying to keep Renee in line and Adri from crying all the time. I’m not saying you can’t have fun. Just be careful. Be smart. Be thoughtful. Yes, I know this is one of those times being the oldest sucks.
When you un-crumple this letter, remember that I love you.