Tag Archives: grief

*GUEST SUBMISSION* Letter 37: Cancel Your Plans

7 Feb

Alison writes:

Dear me at 16:

You made plans to go to an AP Euro review session.

Cancel them. I beg you, cancel them.

If you don’t cancel those plans, you will regret it for the rest of your life.

Your cousin Allen is home on leave. He only has a little time in town, and he wants to see you. But you have an AP Euro test review. You tell your dad that you’ll see Allen the next time he’s in town. This is true. You will see him, but it won’t be what you think.

You won’t remember what you studied that day. You will always remember that you didn’t go see him that day. That last day in town.

In a few months, Allen will be deployed to Iraq. Again. It’s no big deal, you tell yourself. He’s already been there once before.

Anyway, he’s Allen. Nothing will happen to him.

He is invincible. He is your older cousin, your only cousin on your dad’s side of the family. He is the boy your parents treated like a son. He is the boy who loved you and hung out with you, even though he was twelve years older. He is the boy who taught you to climb trees. He is the boy who taught you to dip icicles in juice. He is the boy who wore your dress-up jewelry when he played with you. He is the boy who played Pig with you while your grandfather slowly died in the next room. He is the boy who whipped you around the yard in a Radio Flyer wagon. He is the boy who loved you in his own way. He is the boy who tried to protect you.

Remember when I told you to cancel your plans and go see Allen? You didn’t. You didn’t see him.

In a few months, he’ll be deployed again. His deployment, though, will be delayed. It will be delayed so that he can be home for the birth of his daughter. But then, he’ll still have to go.

You’re not worried about him, though. He is invincible. He is the boy that tried to protect you. And that war is a long way away from you. What does it matter? He’ll be fine. He is invincible.

You’ll be seventeen. It is Friday the 13th in July 2007. Your mom will sit on the edge of your bed to wake you up. You’ll know before she says anything that something is wrong. Allen, your invincible cousin, did not survive a land mine. He was on foot patrol, and something went wrong. He is gone. Two men are wounded. That is all.

You won’t be able to count the number of times that you will cry because you didn’t cancel those plans. You didn’t go see him. You didn’t see how happy he was with his girlfriend, the woman with whom he’d celebrate his first wedding anniversary five days before that land mine destroyed everything. You didn’t see how much he loved his step-daughter and wanted to adopt her, just like your uncle adopted him and your grandfather adopted your dad. You didn’t see how much he loved his life. You didn’t see how hopeful he was for the future. You didn’t see how he transformed from a juvenile delinquent to a man. You didn’t see how he completely changed his life. You didn’t see how much he loved you, even if he rarely saw you. You didn’t see anything.

You waited to see him the next time he was in town. Except next time instead of his Lamb of God shirt and a mischievous smirk on his face, he wore his formal uniform and bits of gray putty to hide where that land mine blew the smirk off his beautiful face.

Cancel your plans. Please.

A rural Michigander, Alison splits her time between school, blogging ( http://literarycrap.blogspot.com/), and making life awkward.


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Letter 28: On Being Home

6 Dec

Dear me at 17:

I’m going to give you a radical suggestion here:

Stay home.

That’s right. You heard me.

Stay home. Skip the party. Skip the movie. Skip the concert, or whatever else you had planned and stay home. Not because you’re grounded. Not because you’re being punished. But because this is the only time in your life where you will be able to do it.

In a few years you will get married. You will start a family. You will have a home of your own, decorated just the way you like. A place to put all your books. A place for your sweet little daughter to sleep. A place to snuggle with your husband.

You will love this home. You will feel completely comfortable there. It will be a place for you to call your own.

Your parents’ home will become just that: theirs. It will not feel like yours anymore. And that’s okay. But there will always be a piece of you that longs for that very distinct feeling of being “at home”, at 17, in your parents’ house.

If you stay home tonight, you might spend some time with your brother. Your little brother, who is actually still “little”. He is still playing with Lego and wearing superhero pajamas. He is still small enough to look up to you in a way that he won’t for much longer. Very soon he too will be very busy and very important.

If you stay home tonight, your Mother might order big, cheesy Reuben sandwiches and french fries from The Pickle Barrel. Your Dad will undoubtedly order Lox and Cream Cheese on a bagel, and also undoubtedly share a large portion of it with you, even though you originally claimed that you wouldn’t want any.

If you stay home tonight, you might watch a movie with your whole family. All together. You might all decide on a Michael Douglas thriller, because your Mother loves them and everyone knows that she has ants in her pants and won’t sit through a movie unless she is 100% interested. At the most suspenseful parts, she will shout out her predictions for the plot, which are inevitably correct, and you will all groan and laugh at the predictability of it all.

The things that now seem mundane to you will be imbued with a certain nostalgic magic as you age.

You will remember the cozy feeling of lying on the couch in the living room, curled up under your favourite dark green velvet throw. Your mother interrupting whatever television show you’re watching to ask if she can bring you tea, or a snack, or to tell you some long-winded story about socks, or your brother’s socks, or your brother’s friend, or some other thing you think you don’t have time for.

It might seem like a bother now, to be interrupted. In a few years time, you will be the one in charge of taking care of everyone else. You will be the Mommy. It will be your job to interrupt the program to deliver tea or snacks. Although your tea will never be as good as when your Mother makes it. And you will often think how nice it would be, during your busiest Mommy moments, to have your Mother bring you a cup of tea. To have someone take care of you again for a couple of minutes.

You will remember the sound of the garage door opening as your Father returned from work. You will remember that no matter how old you got, you always had a surge of residual “Daddy’s Home!” excitement carried over from your childhood. You will remember the smell of his cologne mixed with the fresh, cold, winter air as he kissed you hello. You will remember how you spoke of these moments in the Eulogy you gave at his memorial service. You will be reminded how even the most simple moments with him, the ones you could never have appreciated at the time, are the ones you now long for the most.

So, go cancel your plans. Stay at home. Eat some smoked meat and watch Michael Douglas do his thing. At the end of the night, give everyone an extra cuddle. And when your head hits the pillow, take a moment to listen to the sounds of the house. Your Mother still milling about. Your father flipping through his book. Your little brother, fast asleep in his room. Take a moment to reflect on how safe you feel, tucked away in your bed, everyone together under one roof.

You can always see your friends tomorrow. But for tonight, just revel in the comfort of being at home.



If you liked this post, you’ll surely love this one and this one!

Letter 10: Go.

3 Aug

Dear me at 17:

It’s Friday.

You’ve got plans. You’ve always got plans. Your Dad knows this.

Your Dad has plans too. Nearly every weekend, he packs up the jeep and heads to the lakehouse.

Even though he knows you won’t agree, every weekend that he goes, he asks you to join him. He says “You know, you can come too if you want”. And, “I’ll even let you pick the movies” (as if that isn’t always the case).

You always ponder the decision for a while, weighing your options. But instead of going with him, you choose to stay in the city. You choose to go see a show, or go to a party, or visit your friends. Your Dad goes up to the lake, watches his movies by himself, and waits patiently until the next weekend to ask you again. The eternal optimist, your Dad.

Me at 17, with the greatest Dad ever.

I am going to give you some advice:


Pack up your overnight bag, bring your cd case and get in the car. It will mean more to you, and to him, than you could possibly know.

You are seventeen. You think that opportunities course in continually like waves, and that if you neglect to seize them, there will be many more to follow. You think that you are, and everyone around you is, immortal. You think that you will have plenty of time to spend with your Dad when you are older and more boring and don’t care so much about your social life. How I wish, with all my heart, that this were the case.

In eight years time, you won’t have the option to hop in the car with your Dad and take him up on his offer. You won’t be able to share your latest favorite song with him on the long ride to Muskoka. You won’t be able to listen to him tell his story about Louis Armstrong’s freezer full of ice cream for the millionth time (“Ugh, Dad, I know- you’ve told me this one!” “I know, but, isn’t that just great??”). And, you won’t be able to ramble on about whatever is the latest dramatic conflict in your life and have him listen, and genuinely be interested, and give you the best advice imaginable.

No matter how strongly you wish otherwise, your time with your father will have come to a close.

You have no way of knowing now, but your father is the glue in your life. He sits back, supporting you, always there to listen, quietly holding everything in your little universe together. He is not a tall man, but he makes you feel safer than anyone else will in your entire life. This is because he is the only person with the power to make everything okay. One hundred percent of the time.

Eight years from now, you won’t remember the show that you went to, or the party, or half your friends. Your teenaged social life, which seems so important to you now, will be a distant memory, with most of the details blurry at best. This might sound sad to you, but the fact is that as an adult, you won’t care enough to actively try to recall those details. The thirty odd times that you’ve seen The Slackers in concert will all blur into one giant show. And that will suffice.

On the contrary, eight years from now you will so deeply cherish each and every memory of your father that you will spend countless hours trying to recall every detail you can. You will replay his voicemail greeting in your head over and over, because no matter how silly, you’re desperate to hear his voice and it’s the only accurate snippet that you remember (“Hi, you’ve got my mailbox. Leave me a message”). You will pour over photos, emails and book inscriptions on the toughest days, just trying to feel close to him again; trying to imagine what life would be like if he were still there to hold your hand and tell you that everything will be okay. The little details will be all that’s left of this person who, to you, was larger than life.

I don’t mean to worry you. You will go on to live a very blessed life, full of love and laughter, even in your father’s absence. You will have an incredible daughter, a strong, supportive husband and a wonderful mother and brother who all love you very much. The earth will keep moving. Life will go on.

But please, take my advice on this one: Go to the lake. Hop in the car and spend some time with your Dad. Let him pick the movie. Listen to his Louis Armstrong story. Tell him how much you love him, and thank him for being the greatest Dad in the universe.

Just go. You’ll thank me later.