“Dear Me” to 12 year old Brennan Wood

“Dear Me” to 12 year old Brennan Wood

The NACG sent out a call for letters from those who experienced childhood bereavement. The letters were to be written to their younger self and hopefully show today’s grieving children and teens that there is a brighter future ahead.

The following letter came to us from Brennan Wood of The Dougy Center.


 

Dear 12-year-old-Brennan,

My heart hurts that this has happened to you. Not just your mom dying but all the chaos that is happening in the aftermath of this awful fact. I want you know how strong you are and, even though it might not feel like it in this moment, you will survive this. In fact, one day these exact events will inspire you to a career that helps other kids just like you. This career will somehow help you travel back in time to smooth out all the rough edges that you are feeling right now. It will feel like magic and comfort and hard work all rolled up into one.

There are a few things that I want you to know that might help you over the next 30 years.

I know that you feel like you are in the middle of an unrelenting storm, bobbing up and down in the ocean. Waves are crashing over you from all directions. Hold on. These waves will get easier to manage, I promise. The storm will lessen. You will learn to swim with the current. One day you will be walking on the shore with the waves calmly lapping at your ankles. You will always remember what it felt like to be gasping for breath in the storm – it will never go away completely – but it will get so much easier. I promise.

Hold onto the memories. There will be people who say, “you have to get over it” or that “you need to move on.” Don’t listen to them. Talk to the people who ask you about your mom – who aren’t afraid to use her name. Talk to the people who loved your mom and listen to their stories. Hold onto the memories of the Sears photo session of your Cabbage Patch Kid, the Halloween costumes, playing in mud puddles during a warm rain. Your mother taught you the art of making everyday a celebration – and you will try like hell to pass this down to your own kids – hold onto that during the hard times.

When you feel your heart breaking today, remember to let it break open. To let the beauty, joy and love that you have in your heart spill out and engulf you in light. Your life has had too much heartbreak, don’t deny this but instead recognize that it is this very fact that has added to the breadth and depth of who you are as a person. Part of your beauty will come from the hard times that you have experienced. Just for a moment each day, be grateful for that fact and try as often as possible to live in your life and not in your story.

Always hold as much compassion for yourself as you hold for others. (At least try. This one might take some time.)

I love you and I am so proud of you,
43-year-old-Brennan

“Dear Me” to 17-year-old Meredith

The NACG sent out a call for letters from those who experienced childhood bereavement. 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 Meredith.


Dear Seventeen-year-old Meredith,

This is you in 2018. I would tell you that this is similar to how Dwight got faxes from himself in the future, but you haven’t started watching The Office yet.

This is me reaching out (or back) to you to give you a heads up on grief. Yes, you have grieved the losses of most of your grandparents by now. You got through that by doing temporary crazy things to your hair.

If you’re reading this, then I am assuming that May 25th, 2008 has already passed… and you are hurting. Bad.

Right now, things suck. You are probably still finding glass in your feet and hands from the accident (it’s going to take about a month for the stinging in your feet and hands to stop.) You might have gone back to school to finish up the year. If you are back at school, you have probably started skipping History because the teacher called you out for crying in class.

You have probably also experienced the stares from others that want to know more about what happened. You have also received more hugs than you are physically comfortable with (yes we still hate hugs in the future). Also, I know you are consistently thinking “why wasn’t it me” and are replaying that moment of her calling “shot gun” before getting in the car over and over.

You have also heard people say that they wish it was you instead of her, and that only makes the guilt worse.

I want to tell you that you are going to get through this. And I’m going to tell you how.

Music saves your life. You will be turning 18, and it will open so many possibilities. You are going to get an offer that you will not want to turn down. I won’t give any spoilers, but it involves you traveling away from that gossipy town, and hanging with your music idols for an entire Summer. This is going to save your life, so DO IT. Yes, mom and dad are on board with a lot of persuasion. I would also advise staying off Facebook and Myspace, plus you will be too busy to check anyways.

I also want to give you a heads up on things that are going to suck. History isn’t going to get better. Talk to mom and your advisory counselor and make arrangements to take the final early.

Also, the “mandatory grief counseling” at school is awful. It’s going to turn into a talk show where you are interviewed by everyone asking what happened. You will probably say some really profane things towards one specific person…. Worth it. The good news is that your advisory counselor gets you out of that situation fast.

Also, no one is willing to cover your shifts at work. You will cry at work often, so do yourself a favor and invest in waterproof makeup and carry tissues in your apron. Your GM finally sees how this is affecting you, and will let you go on leave.

Your car rides in the morning have also added 20 minutes to your commute time to school. This is so so crucial. Any time you drive by the crash site, you can’t breathe. So take the extra 20 minutes to take the back way to school and to work.

I hope you listen to you, and do these things. It’s going to suck for a long time. I can’t really give you a time of when things seemed better, but I can tell you that there were many good days.

You enjoy the big school events, you go to college, and you use this experience to help you when other rough situations come up.

Now in 2018, it’s been 10 years since they died. You are compassionate towards their families, and send flowers every year. You go into a career that you probably never imagined that you would do, and you love it. There are still days when it hurts, but you will have ways of taking care of yourself when things get hard. For now, go easy on yourself and stop listening to what other people say.

You’re going to get through this, and things will be okay.

-Meredith

“Dear Me” from Dougy Center Staff

The NACG sent out a call for letters from those who experienced childhood bereavement. The letters were to hopefully show today’s grieving children and teens that there is a brighter future ahead.

The following letter came to us from the staff at The Dougy Center.


This letter is a compilation from the staff at The Dougy Center to their younger grieving selves…

Dear Me,

We hate that this happened to you. Nothing will ever make it okay that it happened – and – you will be okay. Even when it feels like everything is wrong and messed up and ruined, you’re still okay. Are people telling you how to feel? It happens. Some people will worry that you don’t show enough emotion, others will worry that you show too much, but you know you are just you… the you who is figuring it out. The you who is making it through another day. The you with all the feelings and thoughts that come with grief. Just be you – even if you don’t know exactly who you are some days. When you’re overrun with other people’s opinions, try to remember everyone grieves differently. There’s a good chance you might find their way of grieving to be frustrating, maddening, or concerning, but be patient with yourself and others. Try not to compare yourself to your siblings or the adults around you because each person grieves in the way that is right for them.

Here’s the secret about grief no one tells you: You can be strong & okay and still have big feelings that seem overwhelming. Having big feelings doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or you’re doing grief wrong. You are totally normal if you feel sad, happy, guilty, tired, angry, relieved, anxious, confused, short-tempered… and just about any other feeling under the sun (or none of those feelings). There’s no right way to grieve, and no one way that grief should or does feel.

So, if it’s okay and normal to feel like a confused mess, what can you do to help when that mess feels like too much? Grief can be very lonely but try to remember you aren’t alone. It may feel that way sometimes… or a lot of the time… but there are more people supporting you than you will ever realize. There will likely be times when your feelings tumble over each other like a pile of unruly puppies – when that happens, take a moment (or 10) to hang out with them. Find a person or place that allows you say hello to and express those feelings. Seek out people who feel safe and accepting. If they start a sentence with “Don’t feel that way” or “At least you’re still…” or “You’re overreacting,” look for someone else to talk to!

What else can you do? Ask people about your person who died, they have stories that will help you know them even better than you already do. Some of those stories will make you laugh, some will make you cry, and some might make you mad that you didn’t get to do those things with the person. When you have time and if it feels okay, imagine what you would be doing and talking about with your person if you did get to do those things.

Two last suggestions – take them or leave them because unsolicited advice can feel less than helpful:

  1. Be good to your body – sleep when you can, eat things that are nutritious, drink water, and move around. Bonus if you find some way of moving that helps you focus and gives you a break from the heartbreak. Remember how much you love to shoot hoops?
  2. What still makes you laugh and feel excited? Do more of that!

Okay younger self, we need to sign off, but we are here, thinking of you, and sending love and support through the airwaves. You’ve got this. We know your heart, it is strong and kind. Don’t forget to save some of that kindness for yourself.

Your older, but not that old, self,

Us

“Dear Me” to 7-year-old Frannie

The NACG sent out a call for letters from those who experienced childhood bereavement. 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 Frannie


 

Dear Me (at 7),

It has been exactly 40 years since your father died. I bet you didn’t think you would have survived? I am sure you didn’t think his death would impact your entire life. I know you spent many nights crying before bed, wishing your surviving parent would notice and try to comfort you. I know you struggled to pay attention in school because your school days were better spent day dreaming about him than learning. I know you felt different throughout your entire school years; not knowing anyone else who experienced the death of a parent can be lonely. I know you learned talking to him was a comfort to you and doing this quietly did not draw too much attention to yourself.

Your healing occurred slowly and without community resources, nothing existed during the 80’s or 90’s in your neck of the woods. You were able to move yourself through the process, and yes, at times you had to stop and rest, even pretending it didn’t happen.

I remember one time you created a story of his leaving the country as a reason he was not in your life because death was just too final. The problem with that, as you soon realized, is that it wasn’t helpful because he never came home. Those stories served to make the time go by and offered you some strength to grieve on your own because no one paid attention or knew how to identify or even support grieving children/teens.

Grief was with you always and if you had been given the opportunity to grieve sooner, maybe things would’ve been different…or maybe not? The college years seem to be the time that you learned about grief and its impact on you. During that time you were able to reflect and understand the impact of not being able to speak of your father openly for a number of years because it “upset your step father” and didn’t “fit” with this new family life.

I am sorry you didn’t have the support that you now provide to others. Your commitment to other grieving families in your community has been beneficial to those bereaved. It saddens me that you kept your grief isolated from others all that time, but you survived. Eventually, you did learn how to catch up mourning. The universe put loving people in your life, and they were able to give you what it is said you give to others – a compassionate listening ear and simple care and concern. These life angels never judged or made attempts to stop your grief process; therefore, you were able to heal. Yes, we know the emotional pain has subsided, but grief bursts do occur on occasion.

Although I know you still wonder how life could be different for you if your dad had lived, you understand this to be a part of your grief. With all the pain and lack of resources at that time, you did find your own support. Finding that helped mold you into who you are both personally and professionally. Had you not experienced any of this, I don’t think you would be what you are today, a Grief Therapist, serving other bereaved children, teens and families in both individual and group settings. I know you enjoy your life, continue doing what you love.

All my love,

Frannie

“Dear Me” from Amanda

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 brighter future ahead.

The following letter was written by Amanda.


 

Dear Me,

I can still remember the day Dad died. I remember the chilly October afternoon, the quietness that surrounded me. I remember feeling like I was in a fog for the next few weeks. I remember thinking nothing was ever going to be the same and feeling like that meant good. And while things were never the same as they were before Dad died, things did become good again.

I have realized that grief never goes away. It just changes. I will always miss Dad. There have been times that I longed for his advice, like when I got married, or when I became a parent. Becoming a parent is how I have truly accepted my grief. I share stories of Dad with my girls and I see some of him in them. That is how I know he lives on.

After a while you will be able to talk about him and look at pictures of him without feeling sad. You will remember him with joy and feel grateful to have known him. You will still have German chocolate cake on his birthday and get a little sad every October.

But remember he wants you to live and be happy, so go to the party. Fight to make your dreams come true. It’s ok to smile and enjoy life after he dies. That is what he wants from you. Try out for the school play, join dance team and smile, go away to college, your siblings will be ok. Listen to happy music again.

It is ok, you are loved.

Sincerely,
Me

“Dear Me” to 12-year-old Todd

The NAGC sent out a call for letters from those who experienced childhood bereavement. 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 Todd.


Dear 12-year-old Todd,

I know that you are going through an incredibly tough time right now, and I wanted to see if I could help out in some way.  I know how much you loved dad; how much you looked up to him and wanted to impress him.  I know that dad’s death has left you feeling lost, and that you suddenly feel different from all of your other friends who are lucky enough to still have a father.

I wanted to let you in on some lessons that I’ve learned over the past 33 years, in hopes that they will help you to navigate through your life:

  • Dealing with dad’s death does get easier, but it never gets easy.  For example, I used to really dread Father’s Day, especially all of the commercials about how great it is to have a dad.  For various reasons, it now bothers me a lot less.
  • Sometimes you will feel think about dad and feel really sad, especially on important birthdays, graduations and other special occasions.  That is part of the grieving process, and it is perfectly OK.
  • Sometimes you will feel angry with dad for abandoning you and putting a huge dark spot on your childhood and your life.  It is OK to feel angry, because losing a parent at any age is hard…losing a parent at a young age really sucks.
  • Sometimes you will go long stretches without thinking about dad, and that is OK, too.
  • One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned over the years is that talking about what you are going through with people that you trust really helps.  I wish that I had done more of that when I was your age.  For whatever reason, I kept most of my feeling bottled up inside of me for years.  Once I started talking more about dad to my close friends, and asking mom questions about dad’s life (and his death), I began feeling more at peace with everything.

Keep your chin up.  Dad’s death, while a major event in your life, does not define you.  You are in charge of how your life goes.  It would be easy to use dad’s death as an excuse for making bad decisions.  Instead, I encourage you to use the lessons that dad taught you and the wonderful example that he set as the basis for making good decisions and setting yourself up for success.

All the Best,

Todd at 45

P.S. If you stay on the right path, I have a strong feeling that you will go to a great college, start an amazing business, marry a wonderful woman and have 2 incredible daughters!  Good luck kid.

“Dear Me” from Tory

The NAGC sent out a call for letters from those who experienced childhood bereavement. 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 Tory.


To the Children, Youth and Families grieving around the globe,

It was the traumatic death of my father at the age of 9 years that made me who I am today.

With this loss came a profound sense of grief which resulted in me experiencing all the common (but as individual as the individual) feelings and emotions of anger, unexpected happiness, loneliness and profound sadness.

However when my world had turn upside down I was fortunate to have had the unconditional love and presence of my mother.

At the time I didn’t understand how lucky I was to have a mother who understood that she had two daughters who were now vulnerable to being ‘at risk’ for mental health illness as well as social and emotional behaviour challenges. With much reluctance on my part, I was given the support and guidance to help me through such a difficult time.

Most of the time this support involved several different types of play experiences which clinicians used to navigate my thoughts and understanding around the death of my father. Naturally for me as a child this became an exciting ‘event’ in my week. Play was how I normalized my childhood and established a better understanding of the trauma myself and my family had experienced.

Fast forward 23 years. I am now a Registered Early Childhood Educator and Certified Child Life Specialist. I have found my passion as a clinician working with children, youth and families who have been touched by illness, grief and bereavement both within hospital and community organizations.

I firmly believe I wouldn’t be who I am today without having experienced the loss of my beloved father at such a young age. More so – without the support and love of my (at times relentless) mother. Without a shadow of a doubt I wouldn’t be the successful individual I am today.

Often I am asked how I emotionally handle the work I do. I am constantly questioned and looked at with a sense of wonder. People are so curious how do I do the work I do?

My answer is consistently this. I could not imagine I child not having someone there to simply the hardest things for them and support them through by helping them understand the toughest thing they have ever experienced by creating a space of acceptance.

My grief has changed and evolved as I have from a grieving little girl to a successful and professional woman working to support all children, youth and families who have experienced grief in their life. Your own experience will change and evolve just like your life ahead of you. Thank you for sharing and supporting Children’s Grief Awareness Day with me.

Kind regards,

Tory

“Dear Me” by Meghan Kinney

The NAGC sent out a call for letters from those who experienced childhood bereavement 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.

Dear Nineteen-Year-Old-Me,

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

“Dear Me” to 17-year-old Jill

The NACG sent out a call for letters from those who experienced childhood bereavement. The letters were to be written to their younger self and hopefully show today’s grieving children and teens that there is a brighter future ahead.

The following letter came to us from Jill Kottmeier.


Dear 17-year-old me,

I know that sometimes it feels like life is spinning out of control. You have had to say goodbye to 2 of your friends by senior year, and then your world was rocked by the death of Kaleb, one of your best friends baby.

I know you feel lost, you are not religious and you are seeking answers and support from something bigger than yourself.

You feel so alone, like no one in the world understands your grief. You remember special days and events, and your parents don’t talk to you about you. You don’t know what is normal and what is not.

It is ok to feel what you are feeling. It is grief. It will be part of you forever. It changes and it flows, sometimes it is too intense to bear and other times it calms down. But it is a part of you now. You are forever changed by the experience.

People say stupid things to you about your grief, even those who love you. Try not to take your dad’s comments to heart about the photos of Kaleb and decorating his grave. It is his ignorance of the situation, it is not that he doesn’t love you. He doesn’t understand the death of a baby. Really no body does. Stick with Becki, she will be a lifelong friend and teacher.

One amazing thing is going to come out of all the grief you experienced as a teen. Your passion for helping others through grief, especially baby loss, will become a career. You will go on to become a labor and delivery nurse and help countless families going through the hardest times in their lives. Kaleb is one of your greatest teachers and inspirations in your life. You will continue to honor him and Becki through your work and land your dream job, Perinatal Palliative Care Coordinator.

You don’t fully understand this right now, but the grief you are experiencing in high school is preparing you for things that lie ahead that might seem unimaginable. You will have to say goodbye to more friends, and your life will be forever changed after you bury your cousin, your father, and your brother. You have more resilience inside you than you could ever imagine. You will need to rely on that to get you through. The death of your brother will come just 6 months after your divorce. I promise you, you will get through it and you will find happiness again.

Lean on those who love you the most and accept help. All of your loss makes you who you are. It gives you new perspective to help other people and be there for them. Just remember your grief can bubble to the surface at any moment. Even when you think you have made it out to the other side, it is there. Acknowledge your grief, let it sit with you, cry, scream, feel it throughout every part of your body, become friends with it…that is what leads to healing.

Love,

Your 41-year-old self

“Dear Me” to 10-year-old Bonnie

The NACG sent out a call for letters from those who experienced childhood bereavement. The letters were to be written to their younger self and hopefully show today’s grieving children and teens that there is a brighter future ahead.

The following letter came to us from Bonnie Luna.


Dear 10-year-old me,

I know you just lost your whole world but all I can say is, you and your siblings will be alright, I promise. You are so strong and you will get through Moms death with the help of counseling, dance, faith, family, friends, & prayer!

Grief is now the center of your whole life, and it will shape you to be the grown up you needed when you were 10. I can’t tell you that the hurt and pain you’re feeling deep inside ever goes away but I can tell you, it gets easier.

You’ll get scared because as each year passes you’ll start forgetting her laugh, her smell, and her smile, but that’s okay because you’ll NEVER forget the way she spread love and kindness like it was fairy dust.

And you too, will try your best to spread love and kindness. I know you’re trying your best to be mature & not break down for your younger siblings but stop, you’re only 10! Allow yourself to be a kid, you don’t have to keep it all together! It is not your job to be a mom now, no 10-year-old is ready for that kind of responsibility.

You’ll get older and miss her at every huge milestone, but she’s there. You’ll feel her kind soul every minute. She’ll plant so many wonderful people in your life you never knew you needed. She’ll be there for your graduations, she’ll be there for your small wins, & she’ll even be there for the wedding you’re now planning. She’ll be there, trust me.

Her memory will never leave, you’ll see bits of Her in yourself and a lot in your siblings. You’ll be in your early 20s and finally be able to talk about her without sadness, but with joy! You’ll still get together for her birthday every October and laugh about the cherished memories you have.

Lastly, remember she’d want you to be so incredibly happy. So do those things that fill your soul! Never stop working with kids – they bring you more joy than you’ll be able to fathom. Go on those trips, leave the nest( your siblings will be just fine without you) Have the big wedding, it’s okay to smile and celebrate happiness after her. And stop worrying SO much about you’re siblings, they have the same incredible guardian angel you do, they’ll be alright.

Sincerely,

Me