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.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Letters to the Dead: Dear Mum

                                       How to quantify a lifetime of stories and family history?

Dear Mum,

Where to begin? I've had so many questions for you, so many things I want you to know over the last eight years that I hardly know where to start. You died three days after Jalen's first birthday. The year before you had been by my side the entire night of labor with watched him be born and held my hand as I almost bled to death afterwards. You cut the cord connecting him to me. An hour later, you faced my near-death but it was I who held your hand as your life here began drawing to a close.

I will never be the same. None of your children will. I'm fairly certain you know this and I want you to know that we're happy, that we're living life fully, that we're loving every minute...even the hard parts. We're learning to live with the gaping hole you left behind. I didn't even realize how big that hole would be, nor how often it would overlap into my daily life almost a decade later. How there are some wounds that never heal, you just learn to live with them and love them for what they are.

You faced death with a practicality rarely seen. "We're all terminal" you'd say nonchalantly. "I just know the name of my death" and all us girls would argue that no, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow so you didn't necessarily know the name of your death at all. We'd all laugh and share your wig around with the kids. There was humor as we faced cancer together, for that I thank you. It's only life after all. ;)

                                             Trevor and babsy Jared with Mum, 1997

I remember our conversation the week before you were admitted to the hospital. You had called from vacation time in Hawaii. We planned the summer visit to Alaska...the kids and I, to visit you and the family. June it was going to be. It ended up being February, a week after that phone call from Hawaii. Grandma called and said "book your ticket tonight, you need to come home". I didn't want to believe it. I talked to you again on the phone before heading to the airport, the drugs made you confused but you knew we were coming and it made you happy.

We flew north with dread in our hearts. Straight from the airport to the hospital where I looked you in the eyes and saw recognition before you slipped away. I hope you know how badly I wanted to scream at you "don't leave, please don't die!" but instead gave you permission to end the battle, to go if you needed to. I wanted to be selfish but I hated to see how tired you were, how the pain had worn you down.
                                            Sierra hanging out with Mum in Alaska, 2000

I don't know how much you were aware of what was happening in the hospital room those couple of days. Sierra was so tired one night and wanted her "silkie". I can't even remember if our luggage had gotten to the house or if it was out in the cold van still and I was reluctant to go fetch it. In the end, we dug into your suitcase and pulled out a nightgown as a substitute. Mom, she still sleeps with it every night and every night as I tuck-in my big 12 year old I remember that last journey and my little girl taking a piece of you with her.

Roses will always remind me of you. I grow more of them every year. Peonies are next on the list. Sierra loved walking your garden and picking flowers when we visited. The summer we stayed on to take care of you after your hip broke was one of the best two weeks ever, even though I carried a secret with me. A secret that was breaking my heart and I wasn't ready to share with you. I was pregnant with Jalen and knew that my husband was leaving me. I wasn't ready to face any discussions about it yet. I'm pretty sure you knew something was wrong though.

We bonded that summer, you and I. Our roles had reversed and you were now dependent on me for a short time, to help you bathe and fix your hair. To push you around town in the wheelchair. I learned how cruel the world is for anyone with a physical disability. But we shouldered it together and any hint of past grievances fell away completely. Maybe we saved each other in some ways...I like to think so.

I was going through the old recipes this week. Seeing your handwriting makes me feel you so close and yet so far away. I remember that first year or so after you died, I kept expecting a phone call. We talked every week, sometimes more and the ringing phone always made me jump a little and then weren't calling me ever again. It sucked.

The kids miss your birthday and Christmas packages. They were so personal and special. Holidays have never been the same for me since you've been gone. I'm having a hard time getting excited about celebrations but I try so hard to make them wonderful for the kids. Part of me gets mad at you and Grandma and Auntie, for giving me those Norman Rockwell holidays I just can't live up to anymore. I want them to be the same again, I want to wind up that musical Christmas tree that Grandpa Dunn gave you...but it's gone too, along with those sweet times.

Sierra carries that fierce pride of the women in our family. These stubborn, strong, creative women whose fire goes back and back. She's a truly free spirit. You'd be proud of her, of all the kids. I see now, how much of you I have in me and how it's being passed to my daughter.

I have a whole different life now. A life you haven't known. You never knew me as a makeup artist, not truly. I had just embarked on that career choice when you died and you didn't get to see it blossom or how all those childhood fascinations finally manifested themselves. The parts that you and Dad discouraged when I was a young child. I know you'd be thrilled to see how it's grown and understand all too well that you can't change a person. I know you regretted many things about raising us, but in the apology and encouragement given you helped shape your Grandchildren's lives in ways you can't imagine.

You didn't know me as a public speaker or published writer. You always encouraged me to keep on painting and drawing, to be an artist...I'm still doing that. Thank you for supporting that creative side and honoring that need with materials and supplies that were worthy of a professional. Taking my interest seriously helped me grow in so many ways. I still use those Rembrandt chalks you bought for me in high school Mum. They're awesome. Every stroke with them has a bit of you right there, in the art. You never took yourself seriously enough as a writer and artist, but that's where we were kindred spirits all along. In the color and the words we had a companionship. I wish I could have seen that earlier in life.

I carry many of your words too. "I'm going to live until I die" and "They're like, a million dollars" (because every house in Hawaii was worth a million right?). You laughed in the face of illness and death, if only to convince yourself and us. I'm thankful for that openness, for our family's ability to talk about hard things and be present for those experiences. From the youngest members to the oldest, we faced life together. Present for the death experiences, for the births, for the sadness and joys.

We weren't one's to step lightly around difficult issues were we? I remember the babies being in arms at death beds and Grandparents in the living room at a home birth. I love that through all of the difficulties, the divorce and rifts, we've loved each other. The women in our family are the glue and I'm thankful for the family I was born into. I'm thankful you are my Mum and through the times I hated you I also loved you and needed you. I'm thankful for the entire journey and I wouldn't change a thing now, because I am exactly where I need to be...largely because of that journey.

I love you Mum....I always have and I always will. You've left a terrific hole in my life, a hole that I'm thankful for because it means we were close and had an amazing relationship. There is nothing left now but love and respect and longing. I hope you know how much you are missed and cherished.

Your daughter and forever friend,

Monday, March 8, 2010

Letters to the Dead: From Anonymous

Dear asshole,

You cost me my innocence. You cost me my sister. You damaged my relationship with my mother in a way that has taken decades to heal. You poisoned my sexuality and self-image. I don't believe in Hell, but when it comes to you, I like to pretend it exists. May you rot there.

Not Your Victim Anymore

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Letters to the Dead: Dear Ricky

I think I still have a crush on you. I wish you knew that. I remember the first time I met you, in Hawaii when I was 11 years old. I'd never seen such a beautiful boy. That charming, cocky smile turned my stomach inside out. I don't think you even noticed me, not really. But I would say your name over and over in my head because even your name was beautiful. Ricky Itami....and I could see that cocky grin and gleam in your eyes. I knew you liked danger and it scared me and entranced me all at once.

You broke your arm there, in Honolulu while we were all at the church retreat. Do you remember? That dangerous side caught up with you for a minute. You wore the cast with the same carefree charm. I wouldn't forget you.

It was a few years later that I saw you again and my heart almost stopped. You were taller, stronger and still completely charming. It was in Boring Oregon and you noticed me that time. Just as a friend...but it was something. We traded contact information and promised to meet up soon. I never saw you in person again.

But we wrote....I doubt you know how much I treasured your letters or the pictures you would send occasionally. I knew some of your pain, some of your troubles but never enough did I? I loved that I could tell you things and they were safe with you. You were my crush and the older friend with whom secrets were safe. I was sure we'd get together some day....

We lost touch a couple of times through the years, but we'd start up where we left off. I never quit caring about you my friend even when we lost touch for the last time. Years passed, I got married, wondered about you often and figured we'd start up our friendship again. I couldn't have known how wrong I was.

My husband and I visited Hawaii one year. Before leaving I met up with some family friends....trying to act casual (but ever so hopeful all the heart still twisting up inside me at the sound of your name) I asked how you were and whether I could get your address from them.

They looked at each other and paused. "Didn't you know?"
Know what?
"Ricky killed himself a couple years ago." It felt like the floor had just given way and the walls were crushing in on me. I don't know how I even talked in that moment because I felt like I couldn't breathe. Did you know I was reaching out to you in my mind? Could you feel me resisting the truth and calling out your name inside?

Do you know that I still miss you and your charming smile? That I regret I couldn't hold your hand and tell you that you weren't alone? That my friendship was not enough to span the years and your sadness and thousands of miles.

Sometimes I'm mad at you for not trying harder to stay, for not trying to find me again.

I miss you Ricky. I'll always miss you and I'm sorry I couldn't be there for you. Thank you for being a friend. Love, Ren

Letters to the Dead

I went to a talk tonight by Frank Warren of It touched me deeply to hear the people sitting nearby walk to the microphone with their deepest fears, their shame, their pride...the things we wouldn't know by sitting next to a stranger. I heard young Storm speak deep wisdom from her child-heart, old beyond her years and it moved me to tears. Frank has tapped something vital, something important and powerful with his project. He's tapped our vulnerability. He stumbled onto a way to create connections with our fellow humans and it is transformational. He made it ok to be weak or angry or fucked up. He told us we can be openly human and not be ashamed or alone. That's just it isn't it? We want to know that our darkest thoughts and fears are shared by someone, somewhere.

Towards the end, I was not thinking of my own secrets nor those of others. I was drafting words in my head to my friend Ricky who killed himself long ago. I heard myself telling that story and talking to him in a way I never allowed myself to since I found out he'd committed suicide.

On the way home I started talking to my Mum and telling her things, thinking of things she'd want to know now about my life. And it struck me.....we need to talk to the dead. So I'm starting with my letter to Ricky and after that my Mum. After that? I hope you have letters to share, stories to tell to your loved one's that have died. I want to know your own death-pain, your own longings or repulsion for people who were once connected in life to your journey.

Leave the names out if you wish. All of the letters will be typed out here and photographed and hopefully turned into a collage. So it begins......

Mail them to me, won't you?
289 Old Embreeville Road
Jonesborough, TN 37659