Saturday, July 17, 2010

To Isaiah, from Mom

To Isaiah, 1/18/02-5/27/07

My sweet Starshine,

Every time I try to write you, every time I do write you,
I find myself overwhelmed, a painful ache in my lungs
and tears in my eyes.

I miss all of you, your world’s widest smile and your
excited shriek, but most deeply, I miss the hot press
of you against my chest in the night, after reading
stories of trucks, after singing silly songs, after
endless rocking. There was always a moment when you
finally gave in to sleep, when you tucked your head
into my breast, wrapped your arms around my neck and
tangled your hands so thoroughly in my curls that later,
after I’d woken, I had to untangle us like a knot.

And then in the morning, you would call me awake
with one long “Maaaaaam.” After you died, I used to
still hear you calling, hear the feeding pump beeping.
Thankfully, through the gift of dreams, I was able to
hold you close again and let you go more peacefully.

I have always wanted to say I’m sorry, sorry that I was
so young, my voice so untested when you were born - that
if I had been wiser, more assured, I would have brought
you home that first week and held you to me until your
heart came quietly to rest and we could have avoided the
medical years that followed. But then of course, the world
would have been different, I would be different than who
I am today, and I would not truly change the gift your five
years gave to so many, the ways of living and loving and
dying you taught me and I truly could not have loved you more.
Thank you, my sweet.

Your brother has changed his name twice since you
died, from Joey to Jos to Cutter. He’s been Cutter
for a long time now. I’m learning how he misses you,
in his games and with his friends and in his questions.
He wonders what new name you might have chosen. We both
guess it would have been Thomas after your favorite
engine. He asks if I think you would like Nerf battles,
if you would like his newest video games and his closest
friends- I almost always say “Yes,” to his questions
because the two of you loved each other fiercely and
he’s trying to hold onto that, to hold onto to you,
in the ways he knows how.

When you were born, a bit small and a bit early, we
knew nothing of what lay ahead for you, for us. In
the hospital gift shop, your big brother bought a
gift for you, a plush sun that played “You are My
Sunshine.” When I was alone with you, I pulled the
cord to the play the song and I cried.

I knew you would never know how much I loved you
because even I didn’tknow. How could I know that
I would love you so much that I would listen to
your heart slow and stop, that I would love you
so much that I would know peace in your death.
All that, and I still could not carry you down
the stairs to that black van. Your dad did
that for all of us.

Your ashes have sat on the shelf in the closet for three
years now. I feel the time approach when I will plunge
my hands into them, when I will shape and scatter and
free you of what restraints remain. There are so many
trains you didn’t see, so many journeys you didn’t take,
so many hurts I couldn’t prevent - but this I can do for you,
my sweet.

I can send you far from me, along the tracks you so
loved, because you are always near, in dandelions and the
light blue sky, in sign language and construction sites,
in the brown of your father’s eyes and the gap of your
brother’s teeth, in pizza and in peanut m&ms and always,
always in my heart.

I love you,


Saturday, May 1, 2010

From: Diana

Dear Daddy! Did ya see our boy on the forklift today? God!
I remember your license pride & how you smile as you
drove that thing through Heartland Paper's warehouse.
You shined! Like Hayden's face in his welding gear.

I'm sorry he doesn't know you. Honestly, I wish *I* knew
you longer, so I'd have more to tell him. I wish it was easier
for me to be in contact with your mom. Somehow, I think
she's mad at me for reminding her of what she's lost. I felt
so bad when Gran cried for my entire visit & beyond.
Forgive me.

You'd think by my 10th year without you, I'd have the
hang of it. I don't. Still flying by the seat of my pants
& pullin' ideas outta my ass. I work hard to do right
by you, to your son. I think he's mostly happy, in spite
of, well, his whole life being so chaotic. Therapy's
expensive, the life insurance gone, I go the route
of avoiding the need for it, then :)

He's becoming a hairy beast! Finally taller than his
mama - JOY! Surprise, his hair stubbornly remains
blonde :) He's sweet, charming & generous -- with a
streak of intensity that comes from us both (poor kid!).
And a Hayden-ness that is all his own.

Sometimes I imagine the fun you'd be having with him.
The healing you'd have been able to complete (or I suppose
that's moot now...) I imagine, too, how'd you still love me.
How our quirks continue to entertain each other. My
friends would LOVE you. You know you'd be the Pied
Piper of their children! You'd tolerate my crazy hippy
Oregon life, for the good beer and the good woman.
'twas Good Love we had... and that I miss ♥

Thank you for showing me the fun that love can be <3
Thank you for whispering in your son's ear when all is
quiet. Thank you for the gifts of your death.
There I said it.
The gifts I know and those yet unknown to me -- thanks.
And I forgive. Again & again.
♥ d

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

From: Bonnie

Dear Uncle Dick,

You've never met me before, so I should introduce myself
before I start rambling to you. I'm the only daughter of the
baby sister you left behind when you died. I'm grown now,
but I still sometimes feel like a kid - and yet, I'm older than
you ever had the chance to be. Death at 20 is something I
can hardly fathom. I know you must've had so many dreams
you never got to live out. The Army was never your choice,
and I wonder what you would've done if you'd had all the
freedom I've had. Maybe you'd still be alive. Maybe you
would've lived just a few more years, only to be sent to
Vietnam and die there, with your mind and soul broken by
the violence and horror. Korea, at the time you went, was a
safer place, and I'm glad your time overseas wasn't spent
watching your best friends die.

There's so many things I wish I could ask you. What did you
think about politics? Did you like Nixon or Kennedy? Were
you religious like Nannie and Mama, or a searcher like
Granddaddy and me? What did you like to do for fun? I know
about the dog shows, because that was Granddaddy's hobby too,
but I don't know much about who you were besides that. I've
seen a few of the letters and pictures you sent home from Korea,
and I can see your sense of humor in them, especially that one
picture of you in a dress. (We have dozens of pictures of you,
but that was always secretly my favorite.) I think you would've
made a great uncle, with that sense of humor. The only thing
anybody really said about you was that you were kind of private
and didn't share a whole lot of yourself with the family. I'm the
same way, so I can understand that. We're both Virgos, maybe
that's why, I don't know. But I do, selfishly, wish you'd left
more of yourself behind.

Mama left me last year, gone at a young age too, though she
lived two and a half times as long as you. We buried her beside
you. Nannie and Granddaddy have been gone for years, and
so have all our aunts, though Aunt Evelyn lived to be 93. Maybe
you know all that; maybe they're with you in some comforting,
tangible afterlife. But in case they're not with you, in case you
never saw them again, you should know that you were always
remembered and deeply loved. I've known about you for as long
as I've known anyone else. Mama always talked about how she
admired her big brother, and Aunt Evelyn was always going on
about little Dickie with the golden curls. Even though I never knew
you, I could feel the hole you left. There was something dark and
broken behind Nannie's eyes, some unanswerable confusion in
Mama's mind, some hardened place in Granddaddy's heart that
was built to hide his pain. Mama was so little when you died, and
had a bad memory besides, but she could still remember the way
Nannie screamed when she got that awful telegram. Nannie never
could bring herself to talk about you much. I think she was afraid
she'd start screaming again.

I've mourned for you, too, in my own way. Many times I've
regretted that I never had an uncle, when I knew I was supposed
to. Many times I've wondered if I would've had your children to
grow up with, or your grandchildren to babysit. I was scared when
I turned 20, scared some family curse would come and take me
then too. I wrote an essay about you in sixth grade, to warn my
classmates about speeding and seatbelts and all. I drive carefully.
When I hear about car accidents, I see you in my mind.

I think that's the thing that makes me most angry, when I think
about how we lost you. Like so many of your generation, you
died while in the Army, but you didn't die in service. Nobody
got to describe your death as a "sacrifice" or take comfort in
the idea that it meant something. Your death was meaningless
and stupid, wholly avoidable, a product of young foolishness
that wasn't your own. The "friend" who crashed the car that
killed you dragged your lifeless body into the driver's seat and
ran away. He only broke his arm. Thinking of that makes my
blood boil, though I sympathize with him. I'm sure he was afraid
of jail, and thought the blame could bring no consequence to a
dead man. He was wrong. It troubled Nannie deeply to think you
would do such a stupid thing. She never believed you were
responsible, and she claimed to "hear" you tell her, somehow,
that it wasn't true. A few weeks later she received a letter saying
the driver confessed to what he'd

Part of me will never forgive him for taking you away from me,
for taking your potential children away, for putting out my
grandmother's inner light and making my mother grow up
feeling unstable and lost. But I also know he was young and
out for a good time, and cars weren't as safe in the 60's as they
are now, and anyway his conscience has probably ripped him
to shreds over the last 48 years. I hope he's found some peace
about it, even though I doubt I could look him in the eye.

Even though most of the people who knew you are gone, I've
still kept quite a bit of you around. I still have your coin collecting
book, though it's out of date and falling apart, and somewhere
around here is the bag of international coins you collected. I
still have your Army hat, and your Buddy Holly record, and your
favorite shirt, and your baby shoes. There's a box under Mama's
old bed with your Korean knives and the keys to the car you died
in. I have all your letters, too, though I haven't been able to bring
myself to read many of them. In some ways I've done what Nannie
did, deliberately keeping you at a distance to avoid the pain. The
more I know you, the more angry I am that I don't know you. It
hurts, too, seeing you write to people I did know and don't have
with me anymore. Someday, when the pain of losing Mama is not
so fresh, I'll dust them off. Maybe I'll write Donna and ask her to
dig up some old memories - I think she knew you better than
anybody else.

Until then, though, I want you to know that I care about you.
All of my friends who've known me for any length of time have
heard of you. I plan to tell my children about you. I think of you
when I hear Buddy Holly on the radio or see a bull terrier or a little
boy with curls. You've been gone so long, but you were never
forgotten. I plan to keep it that way.


From: Sylvia

Dear Jim,

My heart is so heavy today. I am sad for you, and for those
you leave behind, unutterably sad. I could hardly fathom
Linda’s words yesterday when she told me you’d taken your
own life. I am sad that you were so unhappy you saw no other
escape from your pain, no way to fill the void within you.

I knew you had been unhappy during our marriage; we both were.
I had hoped that in the years since, you’d found happiness and love.
I have found happiness and love. The source of much of that
happiness and love is Will’s presence in my life. He truly was your
gift to me. I doubt you knew that, when you talked me into having
a child together. I doubt you realized with that simple choice, you
set in motion my departure just over a year later. That gift, the child
we gave each other, the one I raised after leaving you, he’s such a
beautiful soul. In so many ways like you, which at times challenged
me and touch me still, especially today.

And, well, I’m angry too. Angry at the devastation you’ve left me,
and your family, to deal with. Angry for my son who will never
get the chance to know his biological father. Yes, Will has a Dad,
who loves him and adopted him. Still, though, he yearns to know
more of you, to know from when he comes. Now he won’t have
that opportunity.

All he’s left with is regrets. Regret that he didn’t seek you out, even
as I tell him it isn’t a child’s job to make the first advances. Worry
that his choice to be adopted, to take a new name, was a rejection
that wounded you. He feels guilt and hurt at learning that you
avoided opportunities to meet at him holidays at your father’s
home, for fear Will would reject you.

A bit about Will, if I may, Jim. He’d not have rejected you, for the
simple reason that Will loves more fiercely than anyone I’ve ever
known in my life. I remember being amazed, when he was young,
to find out just how much he loved me. He’d have loved you, too.
In his loss, he loves you. He’d also have understood, empathized
with, the depths of your pain. Over the years, as he asked about you,
I made every effort to be fair and kind in telling him what I knew of
you, of what happened between us. I told him – honestly -- that I
forgave you, forgave us both, for the pain we’d brought each other;
that what happened wasn’t entirely your fault, nor mine; that just
as it takes two people to make a marriage work, it takes two people
to let one fail; that I, too, had been at fault all that time ago.

Your father; I cannot begin to wrap my head around what he’s
feeling now. I know he was barely able to get words out over the
phone last night, and yet his words comforted Will. Your brother
was so helpful to Will in making some sense of all this. Your little
sister is heartbroken. So many people who will miss you, who
will carry a piece of your legacy of pain, with us each day from now on.

For myself, to think the world will never hear your infectious
laugh again, never see your sparkling smile, is heartbreaking.
The comfort comes in knowing that every time I hear Will laugh
or see him smile – and I’m sure I will again, though maybe not
soon – I’ll see that same sparkle, hear the infectious laugh. And
I’ll remember you, the very young man I knew and once loved.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sir Elton John wrote a letter

...but not for my blog. He wrote it for the Washington Post and it's very touching. Please go read it and if you know him, or can reach him, please ask if he'll let me post it here. :) Sir Elton, surely Letters to the Dead was your inspiration? I hope you find my little project at any rate.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

From; Honey Dee to Timothy Charles Simmons 7/22/62-4/13/95

My "Molasses T",

It's been a long time since I last said those words. Fifteen years,
today, as a matter of fact. Fifteen years since I sat on your hospital
bed, holding you and crying while one of the nurses who had become
family to us softly braided my sleep-tangled hair. I can still feel her
gentle fingers, but I can't remember who it was. That simple act, so
human and tender, gave me the comfort and strength to stay there
with you, let you know that it was OK to stop fighting for breath and
life, to let you ruined lungs and ravaged body finally, at long last, do
what they hadn't been able to do fully in years - rest, relax, and stop.

I was 25 when you died. I wasn't ready to let you go. I had thought
that if I loved you enough, I could love you well, genetics and the
harsh facts of cystic fibrosis be damned. I could love you well. When
the doctor told me you were dying and that it could take minutes,
hours, or days, but that there was no longer any hope at all of your
recovering, we were standing at the end of that fifth floor hall, and I
was staring out the window, feeling his hand on my shoulder, but not
the true reality of his words. I thought of the wedding we were
planning - I had deposits on two dresses, and shoes being dyed
specially. I thought of the transplant candidacy appointment
we had scheduled in Boston the following week.

And I thought of that window, and the two or three story fall
beyond, and if I could throw myself through it and onto the roof
below before he could stop me. Throw myself out the window
(although I am terrified of falling), and die first, so that I wouldn't
have to face either your death, or my own life without you in it.

But I had promised you, from the time we began our relationship,
that I would keep living after you died. You always knew you
would die. You said you would die before your 33rd birthday
(one week before my 26th). And you were right. On your 33rd
birthday, we buried your ashes.

I'd made a committment to you, and I was determined to keep it.
So I squared my shoulders and went to call my family.

"Tim's dying," I said to my dad, feeling how much effort was going
into your shallow, irregular breaths. You were literally drowning
in carbon dioxide your lungs couldn't release anymore; and each
breath made the problem worse.

"I told you that was what was going to happen," he said, and drove
a huge stake through my already broken heart with his words.

Then I found the nunbers for your family, and gave them to the
nurse, there by your bedside, and sat with you while they were
called. I couldn't bear to leave you, or to speak to any of them.
There I stayed until I was told your family was on their way
(that upset me a little, because I remembered your words,
"I don't want my family there with me when I die. Only you.")
and the nurses said they were going to give you a spongebath
to help you feel more comfortable. So I went numbly to wait in
the nurses' break room. Only halfway up the hall, the nurses
doing your bath came out. "Hurry, Tim needs you now."

And so I ended up on your bed, where we had snuggled, where
you had proposed, and where, once, a nurse had walked in on us
while we were making love (you were often in the hospital for
weeks, and, until the last week or so of that last stay, you had a
very typical male libido!).

It was fitting that you should die there, and I should begin the rest
of my life, maybe. I remember watching your epic struggle for
those last breaths, and how, after i told you it was OK to go now,
to rest, you only drew two more - and then you were still, and I
went immediately from the intensity of "we" to a desolate and
lonely "me."

You'd always told me you couldn't relax, that breathing was too
much work to allow it. Seeing that it was utterly true helped me
through the dulled agony of what followed: Your family coming,
looking at you a bit like some tragic display. Riding to your sister's
house in the back of her car, beside your brother, hugging the teddy
bear I'd bought you for Valentine's Day, and sobbing uncontrollably
when the radio played, "Carry On My Wayward Son". Remember
how you never wanted to play Kansas, because they made me cry,
and then so would you? Well, I don't really listen to them anymore -
I gave your CDs to your friend Mark, because I knew you'd want him
to have them. But when they come on the radio, I smile, and tears
come to my eyes, and I remember you.

I never lived alone, before you died, and at first I felt so utterly
lost in our apartment that I stayed at my parents' for a week.
But then I came home, because I could still feel you there, and
I wanted to be where I could feel your support as I began my
life anew. I made cleaning the place up the way I always wanted
to, for you, my top priority. It was a gift for you, it was something
to fill all those long hours that used to be filled with your therapies,
long lazy talks, lovemaking, and delighting in your company.

I had to reinvent myself. I couldn't stay your fiance; couldn't
marry a ghost. And I had promised you I would live, and travel,
and that if someone found me who could love and take care of me
the way you always wanted to, that I would let him. I made a few
false starts, and learned from some of my mistakes, and, a bit less
than two years after you died, I met Jim. I know beyond a doubt
that you would have liked him. He has a similar gentleness, the
same type of quirky humor (he referred to himself, in our dating
days, as "my large interactive teddy bear". So much like you
saying you'd come back to the hospital because you'd bought it,
and wanted to make sure they were handling your investment

I resisted at first, but eventually remembered my promise to
you and let this amazing man love me the way he was waiting to.
We were married on August 23, 1997.

Marrying Jim was a very smart move, just as loving you was. I
couldn't have become the partner I have become, for him, without
having loved you first. I was so damaged by my childhood, the lack
of trust, the fear, to really share my thoughts and feelings. You
bore the brunt of that, on top of the numerous effects of having
lived 27 years before your CF was diagnoses and treated. you
were patient, kind, and never ever told me I didn't deserve to feel
as I did. With you, for the first time in my life, I was free to simply
be whoever I was, in every moment. That freed me to begin to
truly discover who I am and what is most important in my life.

Marrying you would've meant giving up the chance at children.
Though I'd always imagined being a mom, I was willing to give up
the abstract concept of children for the reality of our love. And
so the birth of Jeremiah in 2001, and Annalise in 2004, seem so
much more miraculous. Even the 2003 birth of Elijah and his death
12 days later were made more bearable by knowing I had survived
your death, and would survive his, too, no matter how wrenchingly
shattering it was in those first horrible weeks. Parenthood is a
journey like no other, and I think the selfless love I first experienced
from and with you helps tremendously. It lets me, more and more,
see my children as they really are, and love them as-is.

I know I've made some choices you wouldn't have, and that used
to really bother me. Over the last few years, though, I've realized
that you never wanted me to owe you any more of my life than what
we'd shared willingly with each other. I own my life, and I need to
make the choices that work, for myself and my family, now. And
I think you would completely understand that. We live a blissfully
happy life, here, and you have something to do with that.

If I had any regrets about the time we spent together, it would be
that I wasn't nicer to you., I didn't understand, yet, that you were
already preparing to die when we met, that you were too tired to
"rage against the dying of the light". I thought if only you would try
harder.....I was always trying to get you there, to that strong place
where you could live. But I could never provoke you to fight, even
though there were times when I was a complete bitch.

You just kept on loving me, no matter what I said or did in my rages.
You did it in your own quiet, humorous ways, and, when the storm
blew past, you always said there was nothing to forgive. I had never
before felt such unconditional love and acceptance, and I'm still not
as good as I'd like as giving it (although finally, halfway through my
40th year, I am getting better at it.). Before you, I never knew that
I deserved that kind of love, and a lot of my anger was really
poorly-masked fear, that, if you died, I would never have that type
of love again.

Without you, Tim, I would not be who I am. There is a place in
my heart that remains yours - as we used to say, "Always, Only,
Forever". Jim and the children know about you, and have seen
the few pictures I have, and heard stories about you. Because
you are a part of me, and, to understand that part, they need to
know you, too, as much as they can through me.

I don't know if any of this will make any sense to anyone but the
two of us. Maybe, like the delight of a rambling conversation
where there is no destination, only a delicious journey, it just *is*,
and that is OK. Maybe, like all the letters I wrote you just after
you died, when it seemed I could still feel you, smell you, taste
you, and hear you everywhere, where I kept seeing men who
looked so like you that I could not stop staring at them, it's just
a way to reconnect and explore again the gifts I've received from
the time we shared our lives.

You will always be there, within my soul. We never took vows in
fact, but we were faithfully married, in our souls. You gave me the
best of yourself, without hesitation, for the rest of your life. It
truly was "till death do you part." I thank you for that, and for
letting me know that I was worth that to you.

It's time to let you go again, because my family will be home soon,
and this writing has made me a bit too thoughtful and melancholy
for the jubilant spirits who will soon fill up this little house.
I will leave you with the Shakespeare quote I most associate with you.

Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the Earth doth move.
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.

I love you.

Your "Honey Dee"

The Unfettered Life - living, loving, unschooling

Sunday, April 11, 2010

From: Frank

Rich, mon vieux! Wherey'at, bra?

Bob and I were talking about you the other day. We still talk

on the phone regularly and you come up several times a year

when we're reminiscing about our (vain)glorious days together

on the gymnastics team, the time you came to Seattle for a ski

vacation, and various other times and adventures we shared.

We laugh with you then, alive and vibrant, an energetic triumvirate

striding boldly through the halls of memory.

I want you to be alive right here, right now, so I can smack you

upside your stupid head. Ok, maybe I'd need a stepladder, a small

one anyway, to reach. I was always the little fireplug of intensity from

"da Jeswits" and you were the tall, elegant, good-looking "Sheik of Arabi."

Remember when we left Leon Redbone's version of that song on your

answering machine? Bob and I laughed ourselves nearly to the point of

puking over that one. I know you felt inferior because of being from

Arabi, down in "da parish," and because you were the designated target

for your father's endless rage and disillusionment with his own lot in life

and you accepted his contention that you were weak and worthless.

You were better than that but you never believed that you were.

Is that part of why you got seduced into *belonging* to that charlatan

preacher so much that you committed suicide, disguised as an accident,

so that she could collect the large insurance policies she had taken out

on you? Because she (pretended that she) cared about you? Because

she told you how wonderful Heaven was and you were tired of the

disappointments in your life and wanted something wonderful so

desperately that you suppressed your critical faculties and chose to

believe in her? Hell! I'll never know with any certainty, will I?

Yes, I am still mad at you, you dumbass. Make no mistake, I love ya,

bra, and I hold you in my heart still; but you really pissed me off pulling

that shit. You remember Ray from the gymnastics team. At the time

of your death he was a Major in the N.O.P.D. and Bob got him to

look into your death rigorously but there was never enough for them

to act on, even though they agreed that the circumstances were suspicious

enough that several of the insurance companies didn't pay.

Ahhh, shit. I don't want to write you a letter where all I do is yell at you,

so that's enough of that. No more. I choose to dwell on the good

memories, the fond ones, the amusing ones.

I always smile when I think of the time you hurt your tailbone and had

to wear that big foam pad under your gymnastics uniform. You were

so tall and lean and you body formed such an elegant line… except

BOOM! There was that big square shape sticking up and distorting

the top of your ass. Oh man! What a crackup.

And your (in)famous open-top car! You survived that nasty wreck

with the pipe truck which tore the roof off that POS Chevy but

couldn't afford to get it repaired so you drove around with no top

and just wore a heavy coat in Winter and a raincoat in the rain.

You had a mold and fungus garden in the back seat of that thing!

I remember riding with you and other drivers would be yelling at us,

"It's raining. Put your top up!" and we'd just laugh.

You and Bob came to visit me in Seattle for a ski vacation and for

one of our breakfasts I took you to Beth's Café, famous for its HUGE

omelettes, and I warned you that maybe you'd just wanna split one

but you insisted that you were hungry and you could eat one yourself.

Then you saw it, a 12-egg omelette stretching to the edges of the platter

on top of a full load of hashbrowns. Your expression was priceless.

That's the face I have fixed in my memory when I think of you.

An authentic mix of surprise, joy, amusement, and a little bit of

shock. No artifice. No practiced expression designed to amuse

and entertain others. Simple, genuine Rich. That's the guy I always

knew was inside your skin, even though he didn't reveal himself

often enough. I miss him. I miss you.

This evening we had some New Orleans-style boiled shrimp

(or as they say in da parish "berled swimps") for dinner and I

thought of you and came back to finish this letter which I'd started

a while ago but couldn't seem to make any progress on. I decided

it didn't have to be thematic, or logical, or consistent, or even

sensible; it just had to be to you from me. So here it is.

Hope dey got dem dressed eryster poboys in de place where

you be stayin' at now. Love ya, bra.


Note from Ren: Frank posted this letter at his blog too (you should stop over there, he's always a great writer) with a few pictures of his friend.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

From: MeMe

Dearest Olivia,

It's been 7years now since you passed away.  I still miss you more
than you could ever know. Your life was so short, so difficult.
I will never forget meeting you for the first time.  I kept looking at
you in awe, wondering how someone so small could be such a fighter
and so incredibly beautiful.  You amazed me.  Remembering back to
the days you were here with us, you continue to amaze me: hospital stays
, ambulance rides, doctor appointments, tube feedings, medication upon
medication, special foods, seizures, brain damage, surgeries, crying ...
but mostly I remember your smile and your laughter.  No matter what life
threw at you, you always came out of it smiling and laughing.

I'm not the only person you amazed.  Your family was so in love
with you and you brought so much happiness to the house.  Doctors,
nurses, therapists, friends, neighbors ... you touched so many lives, Princess.
 The situation may have been dark, but you were a bright light.  Your light
may be dimmed now, but you are not forgotten.

Grammy and I are the only ones that go to your gravesite now.
It's where I feel closest to you.  I still have this need to protect my little girl,
you know?  You are buried right next to Gramps and I know he watches
after you, but I long to hold you.  February is a big month now ... Valentine's Day
(your favorite because the color red and hearts were your "signatures"!), your birthday,
the anniversary of your death.  All within days of each other, but the month is dedicated
to you at our house.  We still bake vanilla cupcakes, wear all the red/hearts we can
find and share our "Livy memories".  It's the most precious time of the year.

I believe that in death you are healthy now, and truly able to be a happy little girl.
 I believe that one day I'll see you again and this time you'll run to my arms and be
able to say my name.  I believe that the ache of your loss will never go away, but
that it will only cause my love for you to grow and make our new time together that
much sweeter.

I love you so much, Princess.  This letter is my hug to you ... for the time being,
until I can hold my baby girl again.

Love you,

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

From Jennifer


I still can't believe that you are gone. That you are no longer walking this earth. You were such a strong force. You were so so passionate about everything you believed in. You were also extremely sensitive and prone to lashing out at those closest to you. We remained friends, though. For 19years. I have mixed feelings because we had so many great times together and you also brought a great deal of stress and anxiety to my life. I learned a lot hanging out with you.

Mostly what I want to say, though, is that I'm sorry that I never came to see you after you were diagnosed with cancer. It was so soon after the scathing email you sent about how you felt I was screwing up my child badly by not putting her in school. For me, that was the last straw. No need to go on being friends when you attack my child. But, then, you sent the email about your diagnosis and surgery. I figured you were recovering and doing fine. About a year later I found out you were receiving at home care and found out you weren't doing so well. I had thoughts of coming to see you, making up..forgiving...I thought I had more time to think it over... It is so hard for me because on one hand, I know I did the right thing with cutting ties after the things you said. But, I do wish I visited just once to say goodbye. I'm sorry that I never came.


From Frank

Hi, Sis,

It's been a while since I chatted with you. I haven't gotten over to Yakima to visit the cemetery in a coupla years, partly because I've been busy (with Ronnie) raising our daughters, Chloe and your namesake Marjorie. And partly because I've finally started healing inside my own psyche from the intensity of losing you and I no longer have as strong a need to think about you, especially in the context of woulda, coulda, shoulda. Part of me is a little sad about that but most of me recognizes that it's something that should have happened decades ago for the sake of my sanity and that of those near and dear to me. But what is, is and what was, was. Thinking about changing the past is futile and I don't dwell in that morass very much nowadays, even though it used to be my default condition. I think you'd be happy for me. Actually, lemme change that: I know you'd be happy for me. You were my mentor and guide primus inter pares on the initial trails of the path of life; and exploration, discovery, and fun were our experiential parameters.

You were two years older than I and pretty much my only friend. When you died, I was traumatized, in the strongest sense of the word. I was two and one-half years old and my best, and pretty much only, playmate was gone. Mom was in the hospital for months, which to me was an eternity of her complete absence from my life, and dad went away to work every day. My known universe changed almost completely and I, of course, lacked the ability to comprehend what was happening. All I knew was that I had been essentially completely abandoned by those who had initially surrounded me with love and support.

I was severely psychologically damaged and it took me decades to recover. But that's my story. You… I think of the flow of my life in the context of what you've missed. You (we) have two younger sisters and a younger brother. They all have kids of their own and even grandkids! Hell, you'd be 64 now, if you were still with us, and they're all in their 50s. You would have liked them, all of them. I especially wish you could be here to know my daughters, your nieces. You'd love them and they would love having Aunt Margie to share stories and adventures with. So many adventures already and so many more to come.

I still miss you but not as much as I used to. That's a little sad but it's better for me to live in the present and focus more on those around me who are still living, changing, and discovering. They need me and I need them. I still need my memory/thoughts of you but you don't need anyone and haven't for more than 60 years. Nonetheless, I like to fantasize that you still enjoy hearing about what we're up to when we visit you. Marjorie (who likes to go by "MJ" nowadays) and I always get that frisson of mortality when we stop by your grave (for her) and grandpa Frank's grave (for me). It's a reminder that no one is here forever and one day we'll be joining you. But not quite yet. (To paraphrase the quote from "Gladiator.") There's still lots to see and do and be.

I miss you and I love you,

Your brother always, Frank

Sunday, March 28, 2010

From Drue, Declan and Maeve.

Dear Grampa,
I love you and I wish you were still here.
We are going to get your desk and fill it with the kind of candy you used to.
When I see nature I think of you.
When I cry, it reminds me how much I miss you.
Whenever I eat a mint, I think about you.
If I see a flower, I think about when you used to call me one.
Whenever I think about eating ice cream for breakfast, it's always too late!
But I always want to.
I love you,
(10 1/2)

Dear Grampa,
I miss you.
I feel like you are always hugging me.
I wish you were here.
I really miss you.
I've got your OCD, and your love of nature.
You taught me how to eat ice cream for breakfast.
We moved again and we have a house right by the woods.
That makes me think of you a lot.
I love you very much,
(8 1/2)

Dear Grampa,
I miss you very much.
Since I heard you would eat ice cream for breakfast I want to eat ice cream a lot more.
When you tried to steal my binkie when you were in the hospital, I felt like you were out of the hospital.
I think of you when I eat mints.
I feel like you are still here with us.
I like how you called me flower.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

From: Jean Dorsey

Dear Dad,
Since you died, I have likened it to a door in my heart.
The very fact of your death has been kept behind the door.
Over time, I have gone through stages.
At first I knew it was there, but I didn’t look at it.
After a while I was able to acknowledge the door,
but that was it. There have been moments when I
have been able to look through the peep hole.
But I haven’t really opened the door yet.
I can’t.
There have been things that I can hold on to that make it
easier to deal with your death. First, the month leading
up to you dying was filled with so much love.
To see your face when you found out how many people
had been visiting you while you were intubated was a memory
I will hold close. It was amazing to see your face
when you saw how loved you were.
Also, to know that you will not fall deeper in to the horrors
of Alzheimer’s is a gift to us all.
I am so thankful that you were here to see me marry Drew.
That you know I married a loving man is so special to me.
That you set that bar so high is, too.
Thanks for that.
And I am beyond thankful you were still here to meet
my babies. They all love you so much. To hear each
of their special memories of you gives
me so much joy.
But, really, I am still a bit mad, and so sad that you are gone.
I cry at such random moments. They come hard and fast,
and take my breath away. I see you in the kids. Especially Declan.
His gentleness and love of nature are constant reminders of you.
To think that I will most likely live more of my life without you
here than I did with you here is staggering. I miss you so much.
Thank you for being my Daddy.
I love you.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

From: Wendy

Dear Dad,

I'm sorry I didn't say goodbye, not having the courage to see you so ill and face the harsh reality of the situation has haunted me every day for nearly 16 years. Everyone tells me that you adored me and that I was Daddy's Girl from the start. I have to rely on the stories and memories of others because I have none of my own. I was so successful at burying the painful memories of my childhood that I've buried the good ones as well.

There are several pictures of you in the house, but my favorite is in the kitchen where I spend much time. You are smiling and look so happy. Every time I think of you that is the image that comes to mind.

I went to the cemetery (again) a few months ago, but that has always felt so staged and unnatural. Your shell may be there but YOU aren't. Writing this letter (while prompted and invited) feels so much more organic. Maybe this is what I was supposed to have done all along.

I'm sorry you suffered while on this earth. I hope wherever you are now is filled with joy and laughter. Most of all, I hope there is a window to me, so that my Daddy can still watch and see his little girl. I hope you're proud of the person I've become.

I love you,

Friday, March 19, 2010

Letters to the Dead: From Anonymous

 I don't even know what to say and I guess that is fitting as I never knew what to say when you were alive either. I wish you were here still. Mom needs you. She always has. The kids need you. I need you although I am not sure how.  But then I didn't know how I needed you in life either.  I am stuck despite the 10 years since your death and I can't process the loss of you; except that your death was traumatic for me.  Traumatic in ways that I didn't understand, don't understand and most likely never will.

I have Daddy issues and you didn't create them , but your death didn't help any. My husband is a lot like you.  Sometimes I get angry because he doesn't fix things that break in the house. As a child, I remember being angry with you because you didn't fix stuff around the house either. I never wanted to marry a guy who wouldn't fix things.  Little did I know your good qualities were much more important, like your sense of humor, loyalty, and being a good dad.

My husband reminds me more of you than of the other one.  It is frustrating that even in death, I can't tell you I love you.  The greatest man.  Maybe I am angry because I would love nothing more than to have a father that cherished me as a daughter and a woman and I only got to experience it from a stilted comfortable distant for such a short time.  I think I always wanted you to reach out and tell me how much you loved me.  Even now I am not so sure you loved me that much. I was terrified that you would love me as little as my real dad. I wanted to tell you that I loved you, but the fear would never let me. Now that your gone, I'll never hear those words from you or say those words to you. The greatest man.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Letters to the Dead: From Anonymous

My photo albums are silent. Their magic has waned. My phone has a missing number. It's too quiet. The haunts and dives we used to visit no longer hold power over me. I could care less now about entering inside. I can still hear you call me a 'pussy' or tell me to 'shut the fuck up' when I know I'm wussing out or staying stupid shit. I can still hear your laugh and know that when I screw up you're right there laughing at me. Ian channels you sometimes to remind me that you are never far away, not really. I know you come and go. I appreciate the visits when you take the time.

Twenty years ran past us while we were running to keep up. Numbers in miles, in men, in drama, and giggles, in drugs, in drink, in residences, in adventures, in dares, and jobs are all I have left as memories after the numbers abruptly stopped counting. The only number counting now is the time following your death. Now all I can do is think and remember and wish my phone was able to reach your sorry ass. Fuck you for leaving me behind so early but I can't wait until it's your laughing eyes and bright smile that greet me when it's my turn to say good-bye to this life. I'm sure you're blazing trails and have a million ideas all leading to trouble when I get there and I'll gladly come up with some ideas of my own. I'm so going to give you shit for the last thing you said to me.

Letters to the Dead: From sis Dana

March 16, 2010
Dear Mom,
Ren came up with a great idea to write “Letters to the Dead.” I’ve had a few family members die, i.e. my biological parents, grandparents, aunts, Grammie Ollie, Grandpa Bidwell, and you. None have impacted me the way that your death did. Even as I contemplated writing this letter, I had to hold back the tears, because I was on my way to work, and I didn’t want to look like I was crying. A few tears rolled down my Eskimo cheeks, but I was able to hold it together enough to not have raccoon eyes from mascara runs. I had that suffocating lump in my throat, and I hoped it would go away. It’s just proof how profound your loss is felt, even after eight years.
I remember the first day Cindy and I visited the family. I wouldn’t do anything but play with the dollhouse that Dad built for Ren and Heidi. While you were making dinner, Dad walked in and said hi. I remember looking straight ahead at the dollhouse, too scared to say hi back. After that initial introduction, it feels like we’ve always been family.
This morning, I was thinking about how sick I became in 5th grade. It was a relapse with that pesky “bronchiogenic cleft cyst.” I think back now and realize how much of your time I consumed over the course of the next three years. Lots of doctor visits, hospital stays, even spiking a high fever, enough that they dunked me in an ice cube bath. It was excruciating, and I had absolutely no energy left, but you were right there to comfort me. What a drastic change from when the cyst first reared its ugly head when I was four. My Mom and Dad weren’t around to bring me to surgery, so my 11 year old sister took me. I remember walking down a brightly lit hall, all alone and scared. It wasn’t like that anymore. I now had someone who loved me unconditionally.
Like Heidi, I was also a people pleaser, even at my own expense. It wasn’t until adulthood that I figured out why I was like that. Subconsciously, I thought that if I was always nice and always the “good girl,” then I wouldn’t be given away or sent to live with someone else. I now know that not everyone has to like me, and no one else holds the key to my happiness. I do, so I have to be the keeper of the key.
I swore my siblings would hate me, because invariably, whenever there was a fight, you would make me sit between them. I asked Heidi once if she ever held that against me, to which she said, “No, you’re the only one we could always get along with.” Whew, big sigh of relief! Of course, as I got older, you and I did fight, and sometimes I was a real shit-head. Heidi was very protective of you, and would get mad at me because of how I was treating you. There really is a circle of life, because it has now come back around, and I have a pre-teen daughter that I butt heads with once in a while. Or do they call that karma?
When I first moved out of the house, I remember calling you up, crying, because I was sick and no one was around to take care of me. You and Dad showed up shortly thereafter, with OTC medicine, soup and orange juice. Just goes to show that you’re never too old to need your Mom and Dad. Even now we still need you, but it is with heavy realization that you’re not just a phone call away anymore, or just down the road. We can’t just stop by, just because.
When you relapsed, you didn’t want to tell me, because you were so hurt that I had already lost one Mother, you didn’t want me to lose another. I remember just falling apart, because the reality was that your cancer would be tougher to fight off the second time around. You were so amazing, not wanting pity, sympathy, or wanting anyone to feel sorry for you. You took it “one day at a time.” That’s all we’re really given anyway, just one more day, if that. You lived each day to the fullest, showing us with grace and dignity, how to live and die.
I am also sad that you didn’t get the chance to see Jenna grow up. She’s amazing ~ you would be proud. Unlike me, she has her own opinion, she isn’t a people pleaser, “take her at face value.” She doesn’t choose things/ideas because they’re mine, she makes her own decisions. Example: when the Patriots played against the Giants in the 2008 Super Bowl, she rooted for Michael Strahan, and I rooted for Tom Brady (the only one I really knew of). In Nascar, I like Jeff Gordon, she likes Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. I’m glad she’s her own person.
Whenever I make sugar cookies, which is rare, I always think of you. I remember how you must’ve made hundreds of Valentine cookies for each kid in our classes, and enough to keep us happy at home too. Man, I make 3 dozen and think I’m dying! I don’t know how you did it! I swear, you, Auntie Karen and Grandma Sally are the experts at cooking. I can make a few dishes really good, but most of the time, they’re mediocre, and not something we’ll try again too soon. Really, I think it’s just everything about you that we miss.
There is a funny dream I had. In my dream, you decided to adopt a little two-year-old. At 11:00 p.m., you decided to go to bed, and this little girl was left to just walk around. I was thinking, “What the heck do I make for a little two-year old?” So, I made chicken breasts and cut it into tiny little pieces. You all know that I used to walk/still talk in my sleep. Jenna heard me say out loud, “The chicken won’t go to sleep!” We still have a good laugh about that.
I’m excited about Robin’s little boy in-the-making – I know she’s scared because you won’t be there for her this time. You’re an amazing coach ~ I’ll forever treasure the memory of you and Heidi in the room with me when I had Jenna. Talk about dedication. You and I started walking at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday morning, we decided to check into the hospital around 4:00 p.m., and then Jenna came in her own time at 4:50 a.m. on Friday. You must’ve been tired, but you kept right on going. I think it’s so cool that Jenna was born on your birthday. What an awesome coincidence; either that, or it was always meant to be.
I love you so much ~ just like the book that I read at your funeral (A Mother for Choco), you chose to be our mother, laughter did fill our home, and we were very happy you were ours.
Love Always,

Monday, March 15, 2010

Letters to the Dead: From Anonymous


I'm glad you are dead. I hope you burn in the fires of hell for all eternity. That is what should happen to child rapists.

You single-handedly ruined the innocence of C, J, T and myself. No one, especially a child, should be forced to go through the physical and emotional hell you put us through.

There are numerous things I want to say to you to rid you of my life but I will settle for this: FUCK YOU. You no longer have any hold on me. I'm taking my life back. I will curse you until the day I die you sorry piece of shit.

Innocent Victim-turned-Sexual Abuse Activist

Letters to the Dead: From sis Heidi

Dear Mom,
We just passed the eight-year anniversary of your death. It’s so hard to believe that I have made it through eight more years of my life without you here. I miss you so unbelievably much it’s impossible to express in words. Some days I just want to scream so loud that my lungs will hurt, forcing you back.

It’s so hard sometimes to watch the kids grow and change, turning into these amazing adults, knowing that you aren’t here to see it. I just want you to be able to see what cool people they are!

Kev is the mature, calm presence in my life; someone I’ve always needed to bring me back down to earth every so often. He’s really into philosophy and writing and loves to discuss politics. Not sure where he got it from, maybe Grandpa Harry. He is constantly trying new things and willing to have new experiences. He is getting ready to go to Japan for three weeks. He tends to be quiet and to himself but very loyal to the people he loves. He really loves his mom and sometimes his friends give him a hard time about being a mommas boyJ. I think the nine years he had with you, helping you in the garden, sitting and having tea and hot chocolate with you, fishing with Grandpa, and just having an incredible relationship with an older generation has helped shape him into this amazing person.

Tristan is so full of life!! He is bored unless he is moving and being really active; for me, that means driving him up and down Hatchers Pass, taking him to the pool, dropping him off at friend’s houses- it seems like I’m always in the car taking him somewhere so he can burn that energy off. He loves to work with his hands and loves to build things. I think he got that from Dad. If something is broken be sure that Tristan will figure out how to fix it. He’s great at calling me on some of my bad parenting habits and has forced me to rethink the tools I have used in the past and to be a more mindful parent. I credit him for having an incredible relationship with my kids because I’ve been willing to change and be more mindful of how my words and actions effect my kids.

And your little girlfriend……….she’s a young lady now; so confident and sure of herself, same strong personality as I had without the need to please people. She loves who she is and knows exactly what she wants to do and where she is going……….don’t stand in her way! She reminds me of Ren in so many ways- wants to be a fashion designer, loves to play with make-up, very artistic, and questions people who try to place arbitrary restrictions on her. I wish she had more memories of you but she was only 3 years-old when you died. She does remember sitting in your lap when you were in the wheelchair, rolling down Alii Drive in Kona, while you told her the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. She remembers crawling up on your bed in the hospital because you were asking for “girlfriend kisses”. She still has her “silky” too. Just like Sierra, she lost her silky so you gave her a piece of lingerie to replace it. She puts it on and wears it over her pajamas sometimes.

Mom, sometimes I just need you! I feel like an abandoned child. Some days I just need to talk to someone but no one can fill those shoes but you. I can’t tell you how many times, in that first two years after you died, that I picked up the phone to tell you some exciting news, would start dialing and remember that you weren’t there. There are things I need to know that only you can tell me. Auntie Karen helps a lot but there are even things that she doesn’t know.

I miss being able to call you when I didn’t want to do something alone, even if it was just going to the grocery store. I miss having you pull into the driveway and hearing you honk to see if the kids wanted to run errands with you. I miss hearing the kids say, “I’m going to Grandma’s” and hearing the door slam and watch them walk down the path to your house to get a Popsicle and visit for a while. I miss them having that other person in their lives that let them completely be kids, no judgements or scolding.

I remember the time that they found a mud hole in your garden and came home completely covered with mud, from the top of their heads to their toes in only their underwear. You were giggling with pleasure from watching them. It was the first time Tristan had allowed himself to get dirty and from that day on he relaxed a lot! I could go on and on for hours with all the memories my kids have of the wonderful things they were able to do at Grandma and Grandpa’s. Your house was a haven for them and if they could they would have spent every waking moment there.

I miss having my parents as my best friends; going to FLOT productions, weekly dinners out, vacations to Hawaii, fishing trips to Valdez. I don’t think there was hardly a day that went by that I didn’t do something with you and dad or at least talk with you on the phone. I just feel completely cheated!!

The one thing that brings me some kind of comfort is thinking of all the wonderful things that have happened in my life since you’ve been gone. You quietly gave me permission to leave the religion that you raised us in- a religion that was holding me prisoner. Because of that one choice I made I’ve been able to blossom into the human being that I was always supposed to be. The last eight years have been liberating in that way!

I no longer feel the need to please people or to do things just because everyone else is doing it. I’ve become quite rebellious in that sense. If it doesn’t make sense to me I’m very loud about it. I question things and make choices that are good for MYSELF! I do things in my own way and in my own time and if you don’t like it then you don’t have to be around me. I’ve become confident in who I am and I finally REALLY, TRULY like myself. I love who I’ve become! Thank you mom! I love you and I miss you like crazy!!
Heidi Lynn

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Letters to the Dead: From Heather

March 12, 2010
Dearest Michael,
We love you and we miss you. The shock of your August suicide officially wore off about 2 weeks ago and left me feeling like a blob of moody jello. I joined a support group this week near me in Des Moines just called, Survivors of Suicide. I was surprised to learn that twice as many people die from suicide than homicide. The people at the support group are really understanding. They don't judge. Judgment is not what I want or need.

Your mom has been a huge inspiration to me. We email and talk on the phone several times a week. She drives to Houston from Austin at least once a month to see your little girl, Yin. Your mom and dad keep me updated on Yin through pictures and notes. I saw her at your memorial service in September and she has many people surrounding her with love through this confusing and traumatic time. She is so cute, smart, and funny---like you and beautiful like her mother.
We are all so sad you are gone. We thought you were so strong and would always be here to lean on. We never knew the pain you kept buried so deep in your soul. Your mom sees now that you were never able to express many frustrations you kept bottled inside. She knows you wanted your marriage to work out and did not want to be divorced from Xin, but that being married to Xin was also something that was a complete disaster. You didn't want Yin to be torn in two by a divorce like you were. You and Xin both needed to get some help with depression and anger and being laid off in June didn't help matters. We don't agree with you shooting your wife, Xin and then yourself, but we forgive you. We know it was a terrible moment of insanity. We all thought the worst was behind you both once you moved to Houston with your dad's help. We thought you were learning to be happy as a family. We're sorry Xin hated the cute house that was your grandfather's and the neighborhood. We see she suffered terrible grief from her own childhood and life and was unhappy no matter how much money she spent. Things didn't turn out as expected.
We all wish we could have helped somehow. We wish we could have known how tired and stressed out you both were from all the moves and life transitions. We miss you and your wonderful quick sense of humor and smile. You always said what was on your mind, but never the hurt that was in your heart. You were a one of a kind and will never be forgotten. Sometimes I hear a song on the radio and it reminds me of you. I can't help but tear up. You were like the big brother I always wanted. Cliff and I have so many fond memories of you and crazy things we used to do before we had kids. We all loved and adored you. We always will.
Your cousin,
(Top photo: You and my two boys in 2008 after a fun visit at your place in Austin; Bottom photo: my sister, Heidi and Yin at your dad's house in Houston after your memorial service.)