Today’s “Letter to Those We’ve Lost” is brought to you by JJ Landis. Check out some more info on her and her work at the end of the post, including info on her new book, Some Things You Keep.
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The last time I spoke to you was from the phone in Jeff’s apartment. I loved hanging out there with him, my big brother. I called to tell you I was going to stay all night at Dad’s house.
You chose that night when I was twelve as the one you would take your own life.
I was not enough to live for. Do you realize how embarrassing and awkward it makes a kid’s life when she has been abandoned by her mom? I didn’t cry, didn’t grieve, for about eight years. When the tears eventually came, they were agonizing.
You weren’t there to teach me how to apply makeup, when I started my period, or had my first crush.
You messed with my head by leaving me, and I closed up and kept everything emotional inside for years. I eventually mixed drugs and alcohol with the trauma; my goal being to either numb pain or make another kind of pain.
You weren’t there when I was nominated for prom queen and then got kicked out of prom for drinking. You weren’t there when I dated losers, when I married a non-loser, moved to another country, gave birth.
I wonder if you assumed I’d be better off growing up with my dad and stepmom. Did you plan ahead or did you make a rash decision that night when you were drunk? It shouldn’t matter but it does. But alas, I can never know.
By the way, if you did think I’d be better off, you were incorrect. No fault of theirs – but my new parents weren’t really looking to take in another kid and didn’t really know how to handle someone so damaged.
I was left by you. And I was left alone by them.
There’s no decent place in a letter to tell you this, but I should let you know that your firstborn, Jeff, followed in your footsteps and died a drunk by his own hand and left two children behind. He was 34. Five years younger than you when you did it. I’m 45, so I have you both beat.
What have I been up to? Well, here’s where things get weird. You won’t believe it, but my life is completely remarkable. My heart is so full of love and joy and compassion, sometimes I think I will explode from all my blessings.
You’re probably wondering if I’m serious since I have mentioned all the crap I had to deal with. But it’s true. I am one of the happiest people I know. I never expected anything good to come my way, but somehow I won the life lottery. My life is so great it’s almost not fair to others.
My life is sweet, but it’s not without constant heartache. Almost every time I’m alone in my van in the garage, I think of you and how you were in a garage when you died. I think of suicide every day. Every day.
It’s not an easy, shallow happiness I carry with me though. No, I have deep inner joy. Contentment. I have met depression and anxiety, but still I am able to have a joyful soul.
In a way, this is possible because I used your bad example as the motivation to get my life cleaned up. When I was a wretched, drug-addicted drunk before I was even legally allowed to drink, I recognized I didn’t want to live an unhappy life. Suicide was not going to be my way out.
So, uh, thanks, I guess, for giving me a perspective that not many people get to have.
I also knew that I wanted God, so I searched for him. I wanted peace that came from somewhere beyond me and the world. I realized eventually that Jesus had been with me all along, weeping for me when I couldn’t and drying my tears when they did fall. Oh, that you could have seen Jesus in your life, that you could have seen that tomorrow is always a new day and the sun will rise. Always.
I mourn the idea of you probably more than I mourn the real you. I have to fight off jealousy when I see friends turning to their moms for babysitting and recipes and traditions and advice. I was cheated. When a friend’s mom drove two hours to deliver chicken soup to her sick daughter, I physically hurt with envy.
I am fiercely devoted to my own children. I’m deliberate about my mental health and will not let them have a disinterested, damaged mom. They are having an incredible childhood and they know they are loved.
I have cried all the tears I can cry for you. I’m emptied of that grief.
I want to share what I’ve learned. That we can all overcome hardships, heartaches. That we are all valuable and worthy to be alive. We all have strength we haven’t tapped into. Life sucks a lot of the time, but life is fabulous most of the time.
My story convinced a friend to change her plans to jump to her death. She mustered up strength to take one more step, even in her utter despair and weakness. One more step is always possible.
Who knows where I would have ended up had you stayed…
It’s a frightening thought, because I absolutely love where I am.
I was in chains for years but am completely free now. I surrendered to God’s love for me. I knew my wounds would either keep chained or set me free. I decided to build on the pain and make a way to peace.
We have all been given one time around. My hope for others is that they choose to live untethered to those who have harmed them, but choose rather to dance in the joy of freedom.
My hope is that others will choose to live.
That’s it, JJ
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JJ Landis is a writer and speaker who enjoys discussing real life with others. She is the author of Some Things You Keep, a memoir about growing up after the suicide of her mother. She writes about parenting, marriage, and getting through the day at her blog “Living for Real.”
“Letters To Those We’ve Lost” is a series I started running during December. If you’re interested in reading some of the other letters people have written to those they’ve lost, you can check those out HERE. If you’d like to submit a letter, please click on the contact link above and send it through. I’d be happy to consider it for publication here at my blog.