I wrote this letter to myself, to the me on the precipice of disaster, on the last day, final moments, of what was my life. It is a letter to myself as I stood at Evelyn's door, unaware of what I was about to encounter. It is a way to pump medicine back through time into my veins so that I can remain a little more in tact for all that is to come.
You are about to open a door that you can never close again. Everything you know, everything you believe, everything you are, everything you love is about to detonate. It will all turn to ash around you. It will fill you with contempt for life. It will make you hate yourself. It will make you hate God. It will make you want to die.
I wish there was another way. I wish there were instructions I could give you now that would make it all turn out differently. I wish I could just tell you not to open that door. But what you don't realize is that we are already too late.
Somewhere in the night, she slipped away from us. It cannot be undone. It cannot be denied. You have no choice but to turn the knob and step into what is coming. And what is coming is nothing short of hell.
I want to tell you that everything will be okay, but I'd be lying. Nothing will be okay. It will be so far from okay you won't even be able to wrap your head around it. I want to tell you that it's not your fault, but I know you won't believe me. Because that is the kind of mother you are, the kind who didn't really draw your first breath until there was life inside of you. The kind who didn't know how to truly love yourself until you loved a child of your own making. The kind who lived for the day your kids would come, and has lived every day since because of their presence.
I want to tell you it's not as bad as it seems, but this time ... this time it is that bad and so much worse.
I want to tell you it gets better, but 'better' is not the right word for what it becomes. It gets different, and different is the best you can hope for. Sometimes different feels easier. It is the strength you find to keep carrying the load you have been saddled with. Sometimes different feels worse. It is a new shade of horror, a new depth to the nightmare you have made your home. It is a new moment of unparalleled pain which makes you long to give up.
You will see things you can never unsee. They will play like an endless movie reel behind your eyes for days and days to come. Your peace will be gone. Your hope, crushed. Your joy will be like a dream inside a dream. Your faith will be as though it never were. The only thing you will have left is love. It will become your food, your water, your air. It will be all that sustains you when you can keep nothing else down. The love you still feel for her. The love you still share with your other two children, with your husband. The love you receive from the family and friends and perfect strangers who want you to survive this. It will be all that holds you here when survival is no longer something you desire for yourself.
What is waiting on the other side of that door will send a ripple of loss through your life like a shock wave that will reverberate for years to come. You must train yourself to see what remains, what arrives, what is received. You will be like someone who is colorblind. Everything is one hue—the sickly pall of grief. It will take enormous effort to begin to see in color again, and it is an effort you will have to keep making every single day.
You will feel utterly decimated, shattered beyond repair, and yet you will keep living. This is a contradiction you will struggle to integrate. Both are true. Yes, you are dead in so many ways. Yes, you go on despite all signs to the contrary. In time, some pieces of you will come slowly back on board, like anesthesia wearing off after a long dental procedure. They won't always feel good. Embrace them for what they are. Other pieces of you are lost now. They cannot resurrect on the other side of this. Bury them with her, with honor and gratitude. You must keep moving.
Here is what I can tell you. You do not deserve this. You know how I know that? Because she did not deserve this. You must cling to this truth on the days you cannot believe it for yourself. This is not about 'deserve'. It is not about 'fair'. It is not necessarily about anything and trying to make it so will only exhaust you. It simply is. And I am so fucking sorry for that. It simply is.
Remember how you loved her, how she loved you. That will be your only irrefutable proof against the voices in your head that need someone to blame, the ones that want to use this to uphold the terrible things they've tried to make you believe about yourself over the years. That love is angel pure and diamond hard. It goes on. It keeps beating between you like an umbilical cord that was never cut, tying your souls together. Nourish yourself with it. You will not survive otherwise.
You're going to have to get deadly serious about self-care. Not in that fluffy, self-help way that's all about raising vibrations and manifesting your dreams. This is more like a military exercise. Sleep or die. Eat well or die. Stay home or die. Ask for help or die. Binge on mindless television or die. Stay in your pajamas or die. Whatever it is that keeps you breathing for another day, do it without question. Be prepared for this to shift constantly. You will not land in a soft place where you can settle in. Too long in one spot will cause bedsores. You will have to keep changing positions.
And this brings me to one of my most important points: Do not feel guilty about whatever you need to do to survive this. Throw the rule book out the window. It doesn't apply to you anymore. You are incapacitated. You are compromised. It is permanent, terminal. This is not pretty or optimistic. It's real. We aren't living for appearances anymore. We don't have the luxury to care what other people think. Pack up all your programmed ideals about what grief and transformation and life and death and literally everything else should look like and set them on fire. You aren't living in that world. This isn't Kansas, Dorothy. You're in the wild. Abandon your force-fed principles. Your instincts are all you have. Follow them.
Here is how it will shake down with the people around you. Prepare yourself. About one-third will show themselves unable to handle this straight out of the gate. Cut your ties quickly and don't look back. No hard feelings, but there's no space in your world now for anyone who cannot hold a hero's dose of compassion. Another third will keep backing away over time. Let them go. They tried. They white-knuckled their way at your side for as long as their endurance would allow. Willpower always runs out. You must keep moving. A few will show themselves to be downright cruel. Shut them out. You are—will forever be—too vulnerable to risk more injury. You are raw, moving through the world like an open wound. You can only tolerate those with the gentleness of warrior-healers close to you. For everyone you lose, many more will arrive with words of love and understanding, with empathy like a fountain, with a generosity of spirit that moves you to tears, and the willingness to stay open-hearted and accept you where you are. Cling to them. They are your lifeline.
There will be glimpses of her along the way. They will never be enough, but you will find a way to hold on to them and ride each one to the next as if you are swinging star to star. That is how you will travel through this. Not out the other side because there is no other side here. Here there is the dark and the hurt and the push. Here is the glimmer that comes and goes, like a promise you're never really sure of. And here is the end ... eventually. That is the other side for you. That is what through is. You will never get through grief. You will get through life. Better to know that now than to endure further disappointment. You aren't lost in the fog. The fog never ends. With time, you'll stop fighting to clear the air around you. With time, even the fog becomes her perfume, a sweet reminder that she was real and she was here and you still are.
Don't look for help in the usual places. The things we tell ourselves to feel better here, to feel in control, to feel powerful—they will fall like pebbles against the mountainside of your experience. Most people will not be able to help you. They haven't seen what you have. They don't know and they don't want to and you can't blame them. Don't go to the desert when you're thirsty. Accept your separateness and find solace in the company of the ones who populate the land between alongside you. They will not ease your pain, but they will carry it next to their own.
Learn to hold The Before with a loose hand. You cannot raise it from the dead, and clinging to the corpse of what was will only increase your suffering. Remember with love, and shed every tear that rises up to greet those memories, but make your decisions in the now. This is who you are, like it or not. This is where you are. Acceptance is the only way forward. It is an ugly, gutless, shit-stain word, and it is what will preserve your sanity. You must keep moving.
Above all else, know this: I'm so sorry you had to die. I loved you even as I love her. I still do and will forever. You were trying. You were believing. You rolled in the pleasures of your life, as you should have. It was lovely, what you were building. I am proud of you. But this is no place for an innocence like yours. Your child-heart cannot withstand it. You won't understand at first, but you are becoming someone else. It's a horrible way to grow up, and I'm sorry for it. You will resent the transformation and you have every right to. But you cannot stop it. The less you struggle against the grip of your chrysalis, the easier it will be to breathe within it. You won't emerge a beautiful butterfly, at least you won't feel like one. And that's if you emerge at all. But there's no back-peddling from this. Dissolve. There is no other choice.
I love you. I would erase your pain if I could. But if there is anything I know that you don't, it's that we don't have that kind of power. Hold on, my love. It is coming, the worst of the worst, the end of your world. I am here, waiting, beyond the plumes of smoke and the pillars of ash and the desperate, desperate lure of death. I am what survives of you. I am what survives of her. We must keep moving.