I remember just how deep your heartbreak and anguish feels right now. I know that every day you replay the minutes and hours after getting the call that our precious daughter stopped breathing at pre-school, and the day she breathed her last breath in our arms three months later. Those memories will always remain in my heart.
You’ll drive across two states hoping to drive away from feeling, from being you. You’ll cry in the middle of a concert on New Year’s Eve because Alison isn’t there. But I’m here to tell you, 20 years later, you no longer carry the agony. In fact, I’m here offering you hope. Today, I am happy. I am fulfilled. I am living a life that’s absolutely nothing like we imagined, and– dare I say– it’s better. Of course I wish I could see and spend time with a fully-grown 24-year-old Alison. I also know that was not her path. I count myself lucky that we were privileged enough to be her mother for the five years she lived here on earth. And my relationship with her continues.
Please take these words, this vision of what your future will be, and nestle them deeply within your heart for those moments when you can’t fathom going on another hour, much less another day.
Here’s what got you to today:
Honoring your past. Feel the anguish, the guilt, the anger, and the grief. Do it fully and completely and move through it. You’ll discover that setting aside a designated amount of “safe time” to go deep into the abyss helps. It lets your body and soul know you’re giving these deep feelings their due, but also has guardrails in place so you won’t go off the deep end, never to return.
Finding simple and subtle ways to honor Alison. This will be soul filling and something we continue to do, even now. You remember how much she liked root beer floats? How after getting the feeding tube, you placed a taste of one on Alison’s tongue, watching a satisfied grin light up her entire face? The idea to drink a root beer float on her birthday, death date, any other time you want a physical acknowledgement of her, was brilliant! Good friends even join the float party. Alison may be gone, but she is not forgotten. Once you find ways to bring in Alison’s memory and reconcile the joy and pain of our past, you’ll start stepping into being present, which brings me to…
Learning to live in the moment. Numbing, rehashing the past, or fluctuating between dreading and hoping for a different future, will become habits. They’ll function as armor. You figure, if you don’t allow the present to seep into your pores, you won’t feel or be hurt by new things. I understand why you’ll carry that around for so long, and yet it’ll be beautiful when you ground yourself in both the agonies and joys of being alive. You’ll smell fresh rain on the pavement again and smile. Sure, you’ll feel the disappointments life has, but you’ll also feel the sweetness of connection. You’ll do it through consciously tuning in throughout the day. You’ll set a timer to go off every two hours, just to check in with how you’re feeling. Sometimes, more often than not, there’ll be at least a hint of sadness, tiredness, or wistfulness in the soup of your emotions, until…
Eight years after our world fell apart, you’ll drink coffee from a hotel lanai looking out on the ocean, listening to the birds, feeling the gentle tropical breeze, and it’ll strike you, you’re thoroughly enjoying the moment, just as it is. You’ll feel only happiness, joy, peace, and eagerness to play. I know, I know, you’re asking, “How in the hell did I wind up on a lanai on Kaua’i?!?”
It will come once you’ve embraced a new vision for your future. After years of slogging through the anguish, the heartbreak, and the path to healing you’ll know you want something different. You’ll feel the whisper of a purpose and calling rooted deep within. When you hear the whisper, you not only listen, you get curious. You ask, “If I could have it all my way, with no restrictions or barriers, what would my life look like?” That dream opens a new chapter, a life beyond what you thought possible.
But you’ll have questions. Can you leave the past behind? Can you walk away from the places Alison had been? Would it be walking away from your past as a mother to Alison? Your final day on Kaua’i, you’ll sit on the beach gazing out on the reef sending up a request, “Alison, if you want me to follow this crazy dream and move here please give me a sign.” Letting the conversation drift away, you’ll paddle over the reef with a friend taking in the glory of the place, gliding on the water, and just simply being. A stingray will dart directly beneath you. You’ll know it’s Alison’s sign. You’ve come full circle. Alison’s reminding you of her Make-A-Wish to swim with stingrays. Her wish was fulfilled in the Bahamas and now your wish can be fulfilled on Kaua’i. Your past honors your present moment of bliss and your future vision.
This doesn’t mean life is all rainbows and beautiful moments. The human experience still includes difficult days and challenging times. It’s unimaginable in these early days of tragedy and life surrounded by loss. But I’m here to tell you, today you are more resilient, more bold and courageous, and more alive than you ever were before.
Love, Your Future Self
This is a letter my current self wrote to my younger self at her lowest point almost 20 years ago. Coincidentally (or maybe serendipitiously), the day after Alison’s death anniversary, it was such an honor to have it published in the fantastic resource, Grieve Leave.