letter to my daughter | december

arlington kissesto my daughter,

as you know, your grandfather Billy lost a tough battle to brain cancer, almost two years before you were born.  you hear me talk about him constantly, most of the time sharing happy or funny stories.  one story i have not yet shared with you happened in the hours right before he died.  i was a mess.  it was clear Billy was so close to the end of his life, and i was desperate to hang onto him. i sat on the floor, next to the bed, my hands on his body.  i read to him.  i shared stories i had already told him a hundred times before.  i cried.  i told him i loved him, again and again.  i would occasionally close my eyes and sleep for a few moments at a time.  and then i would open my eyes wide, for fear Billy would die without me being awake.  as the very early morning hours came, i started to read a prayer over and over, mostly because i had no idea what else to do.  the last line of the prayer included the words “inspiring hope against all hope”.  i adored those words in those moments, clinging to them as i clung onto Billy’s arm.  at one point, i raised my voice, practically yelling that i wanted it to be ME.  i wanted to be the one dying.  i didn’t want him to suffer, i wanted to take it all away from him.  and my little love, i meant it.  i could say this with certainty then, and i still can now, after all of this time.  i know that Billy wouldn’t have switched places with me, given the chance;  he never would have wanted any of his children to die before him.  but in my eyes, he had so much life left to live, so much goodness to give to the world, and he was adored by more people than anyone i have ever met.  losing him was going to be a tremendous loss for so many.  the feelings i had in those hours – the absolute desperation – was unparalleled to anything i had ever felt in my life.

in the weeks and months after Billy died, i felt like a hollow, empty shell of my former self.  most of the time, my mind was in a complete fog.  and if i wasn’t foggy, i was crying.  i have vivid memories of sobbing on the floor, overcome with grief, on a very regular basis.  there were so many more tears than smiles in that year following his death.  and then, a little over a year after Billy died, i became pregnant with you.  and that time, my little one, was pure bliss.  i LOVED being pregnant.  it was as if you pulled me from my cold, dark, empty hole and brought me to the light.  as i reflect on that time now, i realize how grateful i am to you for being my bright shining star, when i needed guidance and strength in a very dark time.

and now, here we are, wrapping up the year of 2013.  an incredibly challenging year that has brought many more tears than smiles.  i have felt desperation again, different than when Billy was actually dying, but still that familiar yearning of needing my most primal, central, and influential person in my life.  this past week, we were able to visit Billy at arlington national cemetery a couple of times.  the first visit, i went by myself, knowing i needed to be alone with him.  i sat by his stone and sobbed as if he had just died last week.  my heart literally feeling broken open with the desire for him to be alive.  even after all this time, i want my Dad.  i want to go for long walks with him and tell him what is going on, and ask his advice.  i want to hug him and for him to hug me back and tell me everything will be okay.  and then yesterday, i return to the cemetery, this time, hand-in-hand with you.  we have visited Billy together so many times since you’ve been born, and our visits are normally fairly upbeat and filled with happiness.  so, this time, i thought i’d be able to keep my composure and not cry in front of you.  i was wrong.  the tears came and i grabbed Billy’s stone with both hands, those feelings of desperation washing over me.  you held my shoulder, then my hand, assuring me in a soothing voice, “it’s okay, mommy.  it’s okay, mommy.”  your hand in mine, i thought back to those months that i was pregnant with you.  how i was able to be blissfully happy, even though i experienced everything through a lens of grief after Billy’s death.  i was still able to be truly filled with joy.  because of you.  and then, at the cemetery yesterday, i felt the energy of the three of us, connected in this way, and was overcome with gratitude for you being next to me.  it was the reminder that i needed.  Billy may not be physically with us, but i feel his love, and often times, it is through you.  this is the way he is supporting me, long after that desperate time when i clung to him, repeating the words “inspiring hope against all hope.”  yes, my little love, you are right.  everything will be okay.

16 Comments on “letter to my daughter | december

  1. Such a heartfelt letter filled with love for both your father and your daughter. You’re right, when you talk about the shared energy/love between the 3 of you. That is real and unbreakable. But please know that Billy laid the seeds of love as he lived here with you. And now he can do even more where he now resides, for I do believe our work continues as we transition on. Love is ever present, surrounding you. And yes, the other side of love is grief, but feeling deep emotion is part of the journey. I remember when my father died (I was 18) thinking the same about the connection, that he was still a part of me. But the cord was a little longer as he was a little further away, but still very much connected in love. And over the years, he has come to me in my dreams when I needed his comfort. Be at peace knowing that love surrounds you and that will never change. Your daughter is a lucky girl as you are also lucky to have her. May you both share many joyful moments this new year.

    • my goodness, this is beautiful. thank you. and yes, i agree. Billy’s seeds of love have been planted and continues to thrive in us. much gratitude to you.

  2. Beautiful…

    “Any fool can be uncomfortable.” Will always be my favorite quote.

  3. Though they will not be nearly the same, there are many hugs out there in this world … meant just for you.

  4. My goodness, I love you both. She is an old beautiful soul who will make everything ok again. Love you.

  5. Beautiful Colleen. Tears streaming down my face. It’s so amazing what children can do. Thinking of you!

  6. This is truly beautiful. While I was reading I had goosebumps over my arms and tears in my eyes. These moments you are sharing with your daughter through letters are so open, raw, and honest. It’s such a beautiful gift to give to your child and when she’s older, I imagine she’ll look back on these letters with a heart filled with inspiration and truth.

  7. I avoided reading this for a while. When I saw the image I just wasn’t quite ready. So touching and you got me, you got me. Tears rolling. It makes me want to love more, to spend more time with my parents still living. I pretend as if they will just always be. I know logically this is not so but I just pretend. Sometimes I don’t say bye because I think if I don’t then they will come back. It’s not true. This post gave me a really big reality check and your words are very powerful and full of emotion. Thank you.

    • i really am so grateful for the relationship i had with my father, he is one of my life’s greatest gifts. he taught me how to parent, long before little c existed. happy this tugged a bit at your heart strings…but be gentle with yourself, pretty mamma. you are fab.

  8. This is so very powerful and raw. And hits a little close to home on some counts. It is beautiful that you are sharing these stories with your daughter. I think our children quite often grow up just thinking mum and dad were just always mum and dad and didn’t exist before they came along. It’s good as they get a little older and wiser that they understand the stories of our lives and where we and they came from. To know a little more about us. The photo of your girl is beautiful.

    • Hi Cathie,

      Thank you so much for your sweet note. When I write these, I sometimes wonder if they are too raw. And yet, this is what I’m feeling, and so I share it. Perhaps these also can serve as a lesson to her, to embrace our vulnerabilities, and evolve as compassionate, kind people.

      Much gratitude to you for being here.

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