Last weekend, I wrote a letter to reflect back on things, as the four-year mark of my fiance's death arrived. How has it been four years already? Hard to imagine... yet so much has happened in this time. I shared this letter originally on Widow's Voice, but decided to post it here as well, too. Maybe it can serve some good to someone else out there who is in the midst of loss themselves. All my love!
Dear Younger Self,
Today is the four year anniversary of that terrible day… and you are just beginning on this ride of horrors. I wish I could have been there at the beginning. From here, there is so much I can tell you about what you’ll be facing in the years ahead, and about what wondrous things will unfold, too. I wanted to take a moment to write to you about all that is to come...
I can still remember getting the phone call, and Drew’s dad’s voice on the other end of the line that revealed to me he didn’t survive the crash. I can remember how the room spun around me… how it is spinning around you right now. I remember the primal, animal sounds coming out of my insides as I screamed in denial at his dad across the line. I can still remember the very worst parts of those first weeks… the shock. And the word that I began to hate for it’s overuse… “disbelief”.
I remember my emotions cycling at lightning speed, going from complete disbelief and a total inability to grasp reality one minute, to slamming against me with the full force of understanding in the next. I know, you are crying for hours at a time. And I know that you can barely sleep past 5am, and that the mornings are a special kind of nightmare for you, as you wake up and realize that, no, it wasn’t all a dream. Trust me, you will never forget how horrible those mornings felt, but, in 6 months or so, you’ll start to sleep longer, and eventually you will begin to have peaceful, okay mornings mixed between the bad ones. The nightmarish mornings will not last forever, but it is going to take a long time. Be patient with yourself.
It was so sudden. You had just talked to him over lunch. It was just another ordinary afternoon, you at work and him off flying on a contract job. And then suddenly, he was gone, and nothing was ordinary anymore.
These years will be painful. I know, it will seem like the pain could fill the Grand Canyon if it were water. But I assure you, they will not only be years of pain. You will have friendships that end, and friendships that deepen. You will make new friends, forged in the bonds of loss, that will sail your heart back into the warmth of joy again. Yes, you will feel joy again, and you’ll laugh hard and in fact, you’ll even laugh harder than you used to eventually, because those precious moments of pure joy, painless joy, mean so much to you after his death. It will come. Be patient.
Try to keep your heart open when you feel like closing it down. Try to reach out to others who are grieving and sit beside them in the dark. Make as many friends as you can who make you feel good, and drop anyone who is not loving, supportive, and kind. This will end up meaning you leave a few people behind that you didn’t expect to, but you’ll be better off for it, I assure you.
It will be years before anything will begin to feel ordinary again… and your new ordinary will be nothing like your old one. I wish I could lie about that, but it’s true, and it’s best you know that now. And yes, this fact is really going to suck sometimes. You are always going to miss your old ordinary. Four years later, there are still moments that I miss the old ordinary we shared with him, so so much. But I want you to know that the new ordinary is just as amazing, just as rich and full and vibrant. It’s just… different. And once you get there, remember it’s okay to miss the old life as much as you need to.
I know right now you are completely overwhelmed with the idea that you’ll be grieving for years. Who wouldn’t be? It feels like someone has pushed pause on your life and you didn’t get a choice! Soon you’ll be realizing that you will likely be 34 or 35 by the time you aren’t crippled by grief anymore… try not to let that freak you out too bad. Firstly, it wasn’t the case. If won’t be only years of grieving, it will also be years of living… and living more and more each day.
I had no idea what lay ahead four years ago. And no idea what experiences and lessons would unfold. Four years later, I can tell you, it gets better, but you do have to work at it. You do have to take risks, and make changes, and take responsibility for your own healing. You have to try counseling, read grief books, talk to people. You have to share your story and your pain as much as you can. It’s like bleeding the poison out, every tear and every shared word about your experience will help to bleed out the pain. In turn, this will leave room for the joy to come back in. And in no way will this remove your love for him. In fact, it will make it stronger.
These years in grief can quite possibly be some of the most significant in your life. They have many lessons to teach you, but you’ve got to remember to look for the lessons. Journal often, write everything down. Try to create things from your pain… whether it’s art or writing or working with a charity or sitting down to chat with a friend. Being creative with how you express your grief will save your ass over time.
You’ll grow so much during these years, if you allow it in. You’re going to face a lot of scary changes. Try to remember that although change is scary, if you let his death change you, in a way, he is still changing you. This will be how you continue to create a space for him in your life as you move forward… by allowing his death to change everything about your life. That way, in four years time, you will be able to look back and know without a doubt, that his love is still changing you, and he is still very much a beautiful force in your world… as he always will be.
Learn to sit with the darkest corners of yourself… over time, this will become a source of power for you, because there will be nothing inside you that you do not fear. Go to therapy when you start to feel like you’re drowning, read books and articles on grief, go to psychics, explore it all. Do lots of creative things too… these will help you to understand your grief in whole new ways, and help you to explore what your relationship is with him now… which will heal.
Don’t let your fears stop you… walking through them over and over again will end up being one of the most transformative experiences of this entire journey. You’ll be scared shitless, yes. A lot of times. Every new step and turning point coming ahead will feel terrifying and big without him beside you. Push through anyway. Follow whatever makes your spirit light up inside. Never forget that he no longer has the chance to face fears. It would be the greatest offense to him for you to turn your back on living while you still have the privilege to do so. Don’t ever forget that. Let it fuel you into grabbing life by the balls and living the hell out of it.
You will, one day, find love again. I know right now that is impossible to imagine. Right now, you are still terrified that you will be forever too broken to be loved. You are scared that you will be too complicated to love. It’s not true. You’ll meet someone one day who tells you, word for word, “You are so easy to love” and you’ll cry with a relief as big as the ocean, that you aren’t what you feared in these early days.
It will be some time before any of this comes, so spend these years holding in your heart the image of what you want in a new love. This way, when the time comes, you will bring that to you. Hold in your heart a man who will love and support you fully, one who will always have your back. A man who not only accepts your love of another, but celebrates it with you. I promise you, one day, he will show up. Four years after this horrible day, you will be sitting at dinner with him, celebrating what would have been your 7th anniversary with Drew. You’ll be treated special on this day for all of your days ahead, because it is deserved. Just remember to hold the idea of this man in your heart until the time that he comes.
You’ll have a family one day too, but it will not be in the way you imagined. It won’t be the picture perfect package that we grow up being told to create. It will be your own version… perfectly imperfect, and full of love nonetheless.
You will learn so much about love in the years to come. I’m not talking romantic love, but pure, beautiful, incredible, 100% open-hearted love of humans to humans. You’ll feel miraculous, selfless, courageous love of others that will pour over you like healing medicine, and even give some of your own. In the end, his death will have taught you more about love than you could have ever comprehended before.
In short... Lean into it all. Be love. Create from your pain. Share your story, and share it again. Walk through your fears. And don't worry, because his love will never leave your side. These are the things I know about making it through four years of grief.
Good luck, and much love as you forge ahead. I know make it through. And when you're not sure you will, remember, I believe in you.
Your Future Self
Have you tried letter writing out as a healing exercise? This is one of my favorite ways to write about things. Try writing a letter to someone you've lost. Share things with them you never got to. Express things you weren't able to. Or share what's happened in your life since they died. Write a letter to your younger self, to help you reflect back, like I have. Or write a letter to a part of yourself you are struggling with... your anger, sadness, fear... to help you express things and begin to build a new, kinder relationship with that part of you! Try it out!