The NAGC sent out a call for letters from those who experienced childhood breavement in their youth. The letters were to be written to their younger self, reflect on the grief process, and hopefully show today’s grieving children and teens that there is a future ahead.
The following letter came to us from Meghan Kinney.
Dear Nine-Year-Old Me,
Sweet girl, you are trying so hard to maintain a persona of maturity and strength. You want others to think you've got things figured out. You're the oldest; you want dad to watch over you and see that you can help with adult things now that he isn't here to do them himself.
Turns out you don't know the first thing about adult responsibility but you'll pretend like you do, because it feels like the right thing to do. You've never been shy about words and speaking your mind, but how does a nine-year-old talk to other kids about death?
It feels weird, like you are out of place. This event has shaped your entire life and is all-consuming, but how do you talk about it without seeming like a stormy cloud over everybody else's day?
Dear Thirteen-Year-Old Me,
You've been working so hard on trying to be brave again. Any activities outside of home make those anxious thoughts go round and round and round.
What if I'm not there and something happens to mom while I'm away?
What if I fight with my sisters and say something mean and it is the last thing they ever hear me say? Who would we live with if something happened to mom; would we have to lose our home too?
Every year, you've had to have that same dreaded conversation with your teachers as you fill out those emergency cards and have to write "deceased" next to "father's name and phone number".
It's getting harder and harder to remember his smell, remember the sound of his voice. You hold on to those precious memories and pictures, and hang them up in your locker to remind yourself that he is always with you.
Dear Sixteen-Year-Old Me,
There are so many things that have been impacted by childhood loss that you would have never expected. Learning to drive is agonizing: what if you get into an accident and kill somebody's dad and a child has to grow up without a parent because of your mistake?
Going on the annual family beach vacation is a double-edged sword: you can feel dad everywhere you are and this brings you immediate comfort and a sense of security, but also an aching sadness that it's not the same without him.
You almost fail English twice because you get almost all the way done with an assignment and burst into tears and frantic breaths once it's time to submit it. Once something is finished, you can't go back and change it. You don't get a second chance to make things better if it doesn't turn out the way you want it to. You don't want to disappoint your family and the legacy of this amazing man, and you spend many hours awake at night trying make sure this doesn't happen.
You have now experienced quite a few other losses in your life: grandparents, an uncle, family friends. You begin to grieve the deaths of these beautiful individuals, but you also relive that first major loss, as you watch your cousins and aunts and uncles learn what it is like to live their lives without the person that raised them. Each loss hurts in a different way than before, but something unexpected happens. You begin to look at the grieving process as beautiful, raw, and authentic. You recognize how lucky you are to have a support system and you begin to slowly accept the things you can't change. You focus on the littlest, most beautiful parts of life because you know that no matter what else happens, these little moments give you a reason to wake up in the morning and live fully. You decide to live honestly and be transparent about what you feel and what you need from others. You begin to practice self-care, because you realize that you deserve to love yourself and that dad would want you to feel good about who you are and the decisions you make for yourself.
Dear Twenty-Four-Year-Old Me,
You are currently a teacher of students who are the same age as you were when you lost your dad. You remember feeling so old, but you look at these innocent, tooth-less rugrats running around and realize how much they have left to experience in their beautiful lives. You know that as you continue on life's ever-changing journey, you will reach new milestones that will fill you with bittersweet moments. You will feel a sense of adventure and excitement, followed by a pang of intense sadness knowing that he won't be there to dance with you at your wedding, or to help you move your couch through that too-narrow doorway into your first home, or to hold his grandchildren with a misty look in his eyes that he will blame on allergies. But you are ready to handle that, because you have made it this far, and you're not doing it alone. This loss has shaped you, but it has not defeated you. As Dad would say, "keep your chin up". You've got this.
- Meghan Kinney
The NAGC sent out a call for letters from those who experienced childhood breavement. The letters were to be written to their younger self and hopefully show today’s grieving children and teens that there is a future ahead.
The following letter came to us from Becca.
You are going through a life changing experience right now. You are no longer the same girl you used to be. You are also no longer like other 15 year olds. You are going through a tragedy. And I am deeply sorry you are going through this pain right now. But I say this through years of hindsight; you are at the beginning of a new journey in life that will lead you to all around the world.
To be honest, I can’t remember a lot about the summer months after Mom died. I know there were lots of tears and an outreach of a variety of different people who never followed up. I know you will be hurt by family members who do not or cannot respect your new life and this will continue for many, many years. But there is always someone you can turn to whenever life gets hard and that’s Dad. Dad will be your rock. I have no idea how he found the strength to keep himself going, let alone how he found anything left to give me. He will encourage you in high school, he will go to every single pep rally, football game, and dance competition. Y’all will continue to show cattle in 4-H and continue to bond through hunting and fishing and all of your favorite activities. And in college and post-grad you will travel the world together as amazing travel partners. Your relationship with Dad is no longer the same. He is your Dad who provides excellent parental guidance but he is also your best friend who is your absolute number one fan. People will comment on your relationship and remark that if they had been in our situation they could not have done it and would have crumbled. You and Dad are so strong and you make each other stronger.
You’re beginning a lifelong introspective experience as well. Grief counseling and general counseling will become your new friend- don’t be afraid of it. Seek it out because it helps you so much. You will spend years going to counseling and that’s great and don’t resist it. It will help you figure out how to handle your family when they hurt you. It will happen. Counseling will help you realize how they have hurt you, that you are angry about it, and how to eventually forgive them in your own time and at your own pace.
College will be a rough transition. At this point, it will be the most transformative experience you go through after Mom died. It’s difficult because you not only learned how to survive after Mom died, you thrive because of how amazing Dad is and the work you put in at counseling to get there. Leaving that carefully cultivated environment will be difficult. But you need it. You need space to really find who you are. You will go through lots of changes in college and you’ll find great friends and no so great friends. But you will learn more about your Mom and the things that shaped her and how she shaped you in the time that y’all had.
You were always mature for your age but Mom dying will make you light-years older than your peers. It will make you more empathetic to others and will lead you to follow a passion of helping people, something Mom taught us how to do. Your world, even though it feels like it is crumbling around you, will grow exponentially. You are currently writing this from central London where you’re living while you are in law school. You have been all over the world and met all kinds of people. Always on a mission of helping people.
You are so strong. You will get through Mom dying with the help of dance, friends, music, school, travel, family, counseling, faith, and prayer. You will put in the work to get to know yourself and what you need to do to be successful. But the work you put in will not erase your grief. It won’t even stop it. You now have a new lifelong partner who will grow and change. As it does, you have to continue to take care of yourself. Grief is now a part of your life and it’s important to embrace it so you can grow from it and eventually become the person you needed when you were a lost, broken 15 year old.
I wish I could go through each moment step by step with you but I want you know you are strong enough to get through this, for it to not hold you back from life’s experiences, and to tell you that you still have a relationship with Mom. I know things did not end well at all between the two of you. I know the words you said and the way you acted that night will stay with you for years. But those things don’t define your relationship with Mom. The whole last year does not define your relationship. It will take counseling and time to be able to see that and talk about it with any kind of clarity. But none of it was your fault.
You are starting your new post-Mom life. Mom’s death will be a “before and after” marker for your life. But the ‘after’ will not be something that drags you down. You will see the world, you will fall in love, and you will find joy. Your grief will never go away but it will not define who you are as a person and what you do with your life. But I want to tell you, almost nine and a half years later, that you will be all right. You will be more than all right and Mom’s death will not hold you back in life even though that seems impossible right now. You are strong and there is so much the world is waiting to give you and you will get there even if you don’t think so right now.