I’ve been toying with this post in my head for a while now. Today, July 17th 2017, marks 11 years since we were told that my wonderful mom was not going to make it. Eleven years ago tomorrow, we said goodbye to my mom. July of 2006, I must say, was the worst month of my life so far.
So a few months ago, I heard this song on the radio called “Dear Younger Me” by MercyMe. In the song, the singer is writing a letter to his younger self. In this letter, he’s torn because he loves his life how it is now, but wishes that things could’ve gone smoother to get him to where he is today.
So I started thinking. If I, at my age right now, could write a letter to my 18, almost 19 year old self, during this anniversary of my mom’s death, what would I say to me? What advice would I give the devastated girl who was just told that her mom wasn’t really there anymore? The girl that would end up on the brink of depression and end up being a hypochondriac for years? So that’s what I’m going to do with this post today. I’m going to write 18 year old Rachel a letter. So…here goes nothing.
Dear Rachel (age 18),
I know exactly what you are going through at this moment. You don’t know what to think or do and believe me, this is going to go down as one of the worst days of your life. And tomorrow won’t be any better. In fact, it will be worse. Because tomorrow, you are saying goodbye to the woman that not only gave birth to you, but has been your biggest fan since day one. Tomorrow, you will say goodbye to mom. I know, because I’ve been there. You see, I’m you…just 11 years in the future. And yes, that means that you do survive this, somehow.
A piece of you died the second you heard that your mom wasn’t going to make it, I know that. And guess what, that hole will always linger. Even now, there are days when you can’t stop thinking about her and how unfair it is that she is gone. She was only 63, way too young to die. She had so much life ahead of her, and you have so many things in your life to look forward to, that she is going to miss. There will be nights you will just bawl because something big is happening and all you want is to have her here to share the experience with. You’re going to be angry at times, wondering why she had to go.
I know you’re hurting. Even this far removed, the emotions of July 17th, 2006 are very fresh in my memory. It’s frustrating because a part of you wanted to stay optimistic and hope that she could pull through, but the realist part of you knew it was going to be a long shot. Especially when she started having set backs. Plus, you’re so young, you didn’t want to even imagine this as a possibility. I know. I get it. And when they call the house tomorrow to let you, Matt, Mike and Amber know that she has passed, you’ll be inconsolable. Thankfully Matt is next to you to answer the phone and to give you a hug to try to comfort you.
And you have some amazing friends that are willing to drop everything they are doing to come and console you too. Even though most of them will drift apart from you in the years to come, they were exactly who you needed near you at this moment in time. Lean on them. They love you and some of them are pretty upset about mom dying too. Give an extra hug to Ryan. He will need it and you in the years ahead.
I know that it may sound easy for me to tell you all this. And honestly, 11 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to hear any of this. But I wanted to write you to give you some hope, and advice, for this now uncertain future.
- Lean on God and his word. Pray. Pray hard. Your faith is going to help you way more than you realize. Remember that God knows what He’s doing, whether we understand it or not. And we probably won’t know why He takes mom on this side of Heaven. But also remember that your mom knew where she was heading after she died. She’s going to be up in Heaven, greeted by all the ones who have gone before, and she’ll be watching you. I have no doubt in my mind that mom watches out for all of us. She has the best seat in the house, after all.
- Lean on your family. They know better than anyone else what you are going through, because they’re going through it with you. Some of you will handle this better than others and that’s why you have to all stick together. Be there when someone wants to talk. Spend more time together. You will never regret it. And guess what. You and dad are going to become much closer, and you will love that. He needs you guys now more than ever.
- Lean on your friends. Yes, I know I said some of them won’t end up sticking around for the long haul, but some of the do. And even the ones that don’t, love you very much in this current season of your lives. It doesn’t matter that some of them won’t be close with you in the future. What matters is the here and now. You have amazing friends right now and they will take care of you.
- Know that this first year is going to be hard. Every first holiday without her is going to suck. There’s no other way to put it. All the memories and traditions she would partake in, they won’t be the same. It’s hard. But with every new holiday, a new normal sets in. Every holiday will get easier as times goes on, but the void will always be there. But the holidays won’t always be bittersweet. They will become happier again, I promise.
- Every new milestone is going to hurt more and more. Especially since you’re the youngest in the family. It will hurt when you graduate college (and thanks to dad, you will graduate college). It will hurt when you get your first teaching job. It will definitely hurt when you get married and even more so when you have your first baby. You will feel like you’ve been cheated. Even today, I feel that way. Sadly, life isn’t always fair. You’re allowed to be angry and you’re allowed to be upset and to feel cheated. Eighteen years isn’t nearly enough time with mom. But try your best to stay strong. Your family needs you to stay strong too.
- Know that your life is turning out really great. As I get ready to turn 30 in just over three weeks, I can safely say that things in our life haven’t always turned out the way I expected them to. But I do believe that things in our life have turned out the way they were supposed to. And just know, you are so happy with your life. At almost 30, you have a wonderful husband, and a beautiful 17 month old girl (named after mom and your husband’s mom, who also passed away). You and our siblings are still extremely close and you and dad are partners in crime. Your best friends are beyond amazing and love you like crazy. And even though mom isn’t here to witness all the amazing times, I do believe that she is watching you. She’ll see all the crazy stuff you do and she’ll probably get a kick out of it. You will always have the memories of mom and a lot of great stories to remember her by. And guess what, she wouldn’t want you upset all the time. You will fight this a little bit, almost being diagnosed with depression. As sad as tomorrow will be for you, you have such an amazing future ahead. And guess what? Mom is going to be watching from the best seat in the house.
Keep your head up. Know that mom loves you so much. And live a life to make her proud. Stay strong in your faith and know that tomorrow isn’t “good-bye” forever. It’s just a really long “see you later”.
You’re stronger than you realize. And you will get through this.
Rachel (age 29)