She Convinced Us She Would Live Forever


When the first flowers finally
dry into brittle reminders, and the nurses
know the names of the family members who spend
every night sleeping on the tile floor, you know
the vigil being kept has entered its second
week. Somehow she convinced us
she would live forever. The realization struck us
like a firework going off: she was just like us. She was

She would soon die.

In shaky script she wrote to me three days before
she died. Breathlessly she asked for a pen,
a paper, and we scrambled to fulfill her command
like priests in the temple appeasing a god. I stood
beside her bed and watched her do it. She wrote
that she wanted me to
come back next week to work with her
on her obituary.

I said I would.

She put her hands on Maile’s stomach and smiled. We asked
if she thought it was a boy
or a girl? “Another boy,” she whispered, shaking her head
in mock sadness. I leaned in before I left
and whispered, “You were always my favorite.”
I cried when I said those words. But
she laughed through her short breath, as if
even then, she was only planning to stay
in the hospital for a short time. “What?” everyone asked. “What did
you tell her?” I refused to say.

That was
three days before the end. Three days before

nurses mute the machines. No more
beeping, no more buzzing, no more
chirping. The room is quieter
than it should be with so many people. Ten
of us? Twelve? Fifteen maybe? I tick off the seconds
between, each breath a tiny struggle, a refusal
to leave. Three seconds. Four. Not yet.

Anything said is said in a whisper. To leave the room
is to undertake a silent pilgrimage, holding the latch
so it doesn’t snap, guiding the door to its rest.

Maile sits beside me. She reaches through the silence
for my hand and holds it against
her stomach. The baby moves. Kicks. Rolls in
its own little universe. Does it know what we
are waiting for? How must that feel to be Maile,
a mother, holding life? How must that feel to be
my grandmother, sitting quietly beside the bed of one
who once twisted and turned inside of her, now

Through the eighth floor window the sun splashes us
with pink and red and a deep sense that everything is
being fulfilled. But how? Could this be the end of the world, the last
night? We are a prehistoric people basking in the glow
of the apocalypse, worshiping a God who does not answer
the way we want.

Her last breath is like the thousand
that came before it, diminished. The candle is out. She is finished
waiting. There is a silence between her last breath and the first
cries of our anguish. Generations are born and die
in that space of time. Everything else in the world
stops. The clouds bow down in their
sunset. The red lights in the city synchronize – everyone
pauses. It is a silence you can fall into
if you’re not careful.

The moment she dies, just after 9pm on July the 3rd, fireworks
go off all over the city. We watch them from the eighth
floor. We hold each other. Words are completely
powerless. I feel that I never want to speak again.

Later that same night, I am home. I am writing an obituary
a week early, years early, decades too early (she was
only 48). My daughter waits for me
to climb the long stairs to the third floor
of our darkened house. There, most nights for the last
two years, we said a prayer for that beauty
who had just died, fled
this earth, dodging fireworks. For two years we prayed
for a miracle. I think I need a break from
prayer. I think I need to stop asking,
at least for a little while.

By the time I pry myself from my office and lean
my way up each sorry step, wondering how I will ever
be able to say the words, my daughter
is already asleep. Her light still on. I pull up the covers
under her chin, turn out the light,
and look through her window, towards the north. Towards
the night.

This is how I pray now: I climb the steps each night. I walk
the short hall. I hold my daughter’s hand as she says
the words. Sometimes, I think we need others to do
the praying for us. Sometimes prayer is as simple as waking
each morning and standing up out of bed, or clearing away
the brittle bouquets and bringing in fresh flowers.

From Auntie Anne to Angela: Today’s #LettersToThoseWeHaveLost


Today’s “Letters to Those We’ve Lost” is brought to you by Anne Beiler, founder of Auntie Anne’s Soft Pretzels. It just so happens that this week marks the 28th anniversary of Anne opening her first location (pictured above). She lost her daughter Angela Joy Beiler at the age of 19 months and 12 days on a warm summer day in 1975.

To our dear Angie,

Oh, how we miss you. It’s been 40 Christmases since we’ve seen you or held you. It seems so long ago, and yet your life as part of our family is still very much alive. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about you. Sometimes I sigh when I think of how long it’s been, and how much longer it might be until I see you. I often wish there was a way to visit you just for the day, and then come back to be with my family again.

Your sisters have beautiful children and I love being with them, too. LaWonna has three children: Trinity is 15; Ryan is 11, and Mia is 9. LaVale has one son, Cristian, who is 18.

You were here for only one Christmas, which I am sad to say I remember very little about. Your only Christmas with us. You were 11 months old at the time. What I remember clearly is the first Christmas without you. At the time, Angie, my pain was so deep that even Christmas couldn’t cheer my spirit. I could hardly mention your name because if I did I would fall apart. I tried to be brave and strong, but I was so scared and weak. Scared because I didn’t know how to live without you, weak because I didn’t have the strength to keep it together all the time.

I have heard it said that “Time and God are your friend,” and I agree now that it’s true. Time has helped me see things more clearly, and if you had stayed with us I would never have become the person I am today.

I often imagine what you might be doing in heaven? In my dreams you told me you wer eplaying with all the children, picking flowers and sitting on Jesus’ lap. Sometimes, though, I think you may be all grown up now…could it be true? I have so many questions.

One thing I know, sweet Angie: I will see you again and when I do, that will be the most glorious moment. We’ll be together forever and we’ll never have to say goodbye again.

Until then

Your Mom

Anne and I co-wrote a book about her life, Twist of Faith. You can also check out the other powerful letters people have written to those they’ve lost HERE. Please feel free to email me your own letter, and I’ll see if I can post it here at the blog.

“To My Mother, Who Committed Suicide,” by JJ Landis


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.

* * * * *

Dear Mom,

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

* * * * *

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.

I Know You May Know This. But It Helps To Say It Still.

Photo by Derek Truninger via Unsplash

This Advent Letter to Those We’ve Lost is written by Guy Delcambre to his wife who he lost five years ago.

* * * * *


You may know this.

There were days I teetered close to death myself. I wished then that I were the one who’d gone away. Not you who held the words, which soothed their baby hearts so well, but me. Behind a fixed smile hung to protect all that died within me when you left. I couldn’t help but think they were fiercely cheated in life with me alone here on this side of time. I watched in horror as their eyes dimmed and the coloring sheets they made just for you, the ones meant to comfort you, to fill the room surrounding your hospital bed, fell to the ground. Helplessly I observed death snatch innocence right from their little hearts. They trembled for years. I stumbled for some. I know you may know this. But it helps to say it still.

You may be aware of them. My, how they’ve grown! Each slowly stretching into beautiful young ladies who I’m hoping will be strong women not stained by grief, but improved by its haunting presence returning through those years. I say improved not because loss is some sort of treasure. No certainly not. Rather, loss has introduced grief into our lives and grief is a graceful teacher to those who’ll learn. We’ve learned through tears and fights and wounds splitting open again to spill longing and fear onto the floor of the house we call home.

It’s Christmastime again. The fifth since you left this life. With each passing year, the season lightens a bit more in grief’s working to loosen the suffocating grasp of loss on our family. We remember you in stories and smiles. The girls soak in them both as they learn better that grief isn’t a taker, but in this way, a giver.

We have hope here in this time present.

You may see. There’s a woman who swept into our lives as an elegant breeze. She carries hope in the warm depths of her chest. She’s unbelievably strong in the way her heart loves and often undeniably oblivious to this strength of hers. I love her deeply. And, she is brave. Unflinchingly she strolled into our tattered lives ready to join in and belong here with us. The way she smiled, as though she could see our wounds and went right about dressing them so they could heal. It was almost as if she traveled in from tomorrow or knew a secret we hadn’t yet heard. Her love stirred my heart, and I awoke someone new.

There are days now so difficult, words I still don’t have to heal their hearts with, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but here now. I have something now I’ve never fully had before: hope. That’s one thing death couldn’t take. Hope is the day that never ages and calls us beyond our difficulties and ourselves. In only a way God could so reposition such a pain, I suppose this is the gift you give to us each year during this time.

You may know these things I’ve said. Still, it helps me to say them and to hold them. For the past five years since you’ve gone away have been the most beautiful to endure. I am happy and full.

* * * * *

Guy Delcambre is the author of Earth and Sky, the story of a traveler walking through the deepest valley and the highest mountain, through great heartache and unexpected joy. It is not a book about grief, but a book about grace and the goodness of God in the darkest night.

Previous Advent Letters to Those We’ve Lost:

The Dust of Glory by Andi Cumbo-Floyd
This Should Be Your Second Christmas: I Wish You Were Still Here by Alise Chaffins
Dear Mom, I Have Your Christmas Cookie Cutters
by Bethany Suckrow
Sometimes It Seems Like I Am the Ghost in the Room by Rebecca Mast
Advent Letters to Those We’ve Lost

Also, we’ve completed the first season of the podcast, The Story of My Death. Caleb Wilde, Bryan Allain, and I recorded three different episodes in which we interview people who tell compelling, intimate stories about death. Caleb tries to give away a Hearse. Bryan tries to make us laugh. The episodes are funny, sad, poignant, brave, and heartwarming. You can check out the first season of episodes HERE.

The Dust of Glory

MomChristmas2009 copyThis Advent Letter to Those We’ve Lost is written by Andi Cumbo-Floyd. One of my great regrets in life is that her mother died of cancer before I could meet her. She passed away on Thanksgiving Day, 2010.

Here is Andi’s letter to her:

* * * * *

Dear Mama,

This morning, I found out that we are, yet again, not pregnant. . . and all I want to do is turn on the Christmas tree lights, sit beside you, and hear you tell me about when you were surprised to find out you were pregnant. I want to ask your advice about our journey. I want to get some of the comfort you gave out like breath.

But you are not here . . . still and again. . . and it is the third Sunday of Advent, and I cannot help but sit heavy with sadness – grief, once it comes in, shades everything a little more charcoal. The white Christmas lights that I insist on because you taught me their beautiful simplicity. The jigsaw puzzle of Santa that I am putting together SO slowly, doing the straight-edges first as you taught me. The journal that sits next to your Bible, the one I read every morning. All of these things carry both the light and the shadow of your existence.

In this season of waiting – for babies both eternal and mortal – I miss you. I miss your laugh – the way it filled a room with its joy. I miss your wisdom, doled out in tiny measure over stories with coffee on our pj-clad mornings when I came home as an adult. But this time of year, I miss your music most.

When you sat at the piano, a dust of glory shown around you. Your whole body moved behind your fingers, beauty streaming forth, praise to the God you trusted –with strenuous commitment and a whole bevy of doubt – glowing into the whole room like frankincense.

Oh, there is worship even in memory.

Remember that year you wrote that Christmas cantata from the perspective of “the least of these.” How you took to heart God’s choice to send Jesus as an infant and pushed us all to see that when we are on the bottom, we sometimes see the glory best? That was my favorite Christmas program you ever did.

This morning, I feel a bit on the bottom, and yet, you taught me that when you’re really low-down, the best thing to do is look up and give yourself over to the work that lets you shine. For me, Mama, that’s words . . . and I can only pray that when I write them well, a little of that glory dust spills out and shines up the room as your music did.

I love you, Mama. I can’t wait to see you again. Merry Christmas!



* * * * *

This Should Be Your Second Christmas – I Wish You Were Still Here


This Advent Letter to Those We’ve Lost is written by Alise Chaffins. Her son Elliott was stillborn on June 4, 2014, when she was 35 weeks pregnant. Four weeks later, my wife Maile gave birth to Leo, and there has been a connection in my mind between Leo and Elliott ever since.

Here is Alise’s letter:

* * * * *

My Sweet Elliott,

I miss you. Every day, every day,  every day. But there are times when that missing deepens a little bit. Times when I think of what could have been – what should have been – and I wish I could hold you again.
I said that there are times when the missing deepens, and that’s especially true of Christmas. My Instagram feed is filled with family pictures, which means lots of photographs of the babies that were born at the same time as you – little boys and girls who get to grow up and see what the world has in store for them, not stunted in infancy like you. Pictures that get to change each year, rather than just a new filter on the same dozen or so pictures I have of you.

And it’s not just the pictures on Instagram and the Facebook updates. It’s in our Christmas carols, in the nativity scenes, in the Bible passages. The story of a little boy, born thousands of years ago. And to make things worse, this baby’s birth is seldom talked about without mentioning his death as well.

Sometimes I want to ask people to stop, just for a minute, and simply enjoy the miracle of the birth. Let’s not rush Jesus to his death, but let’s just take a breath and celebrate his life. Not even how well he lived and what an amazing teacher he was, but simply that he was born. That he grew and kicked and was born. That alone should cause us to marvel.

This should be your second Christmas. Last year you would have barely been able to sit up, but this year, oh this year you would be tearing around the house with your brothers and sister, adding to the noise and commotion of our big, blended family. I say that I want to hold you again, but let’s be honest, you would be at the age when holding would be hard to come by. I can just see your little legs pumping around the living room, clambering over your siblings, trying to sort out where you fit in. I can see the little annoyances and the big affection that would come from your family.

You would probably be starting to talk. If you were like your brothers, maybe not a lot of words quite yet, but you would know me, you would know your daddy. You would say our names, and even if we were exhausted from a lack of sleep, you’d melt our hearts with those words. Mama. Dada.

I wish you were still here. Sometimes I’m tempted to “look for the bright side,” but the bright side would be you here with us. The bright side would be something completely different than what is.

Instead, I’m finding that I need to allow myself to feel grief when it happens. To allow the tears to fall when they come to my eyes. To allow myself to think about you when you come to my mind.

This Christmas, that is the gift that I can give you. The gift of remembrance.

And son, you have given me a gift as well, even though at times I don’t recognize it. Not the gift of a bright side, but the gift of darkness. The gift of permission to seek help for so many other hard things that have happened. The gift of vulnerability.

You have given me the gift of grief.

I love you, baby boy.

Your Mommy

* * * * *

Alise Chaffins recently released a book called Embracing Grief: Leaning Into Loss to Find Life. She is a wife, mother, eater of soup, and defender of the Oxford comma. She writes about life and grief, and how embracing grief allows for a fuller life. You can follow her online on Facebook and Twitter. She blogs regularly at

Previous Advent Letters to Those We’ve Lost:

Dear Mom, I Have Your Christmas Cookie Cutters by Bethany Suckrow
Sometimes It Seems Like I Am the Ghost in the Room by Rebecca Mast
Advent Letters to Those We’ve Lost

Also, we’ve completed the first season of the podcast, The Story of My Death. Caleb Wilde, Bryan Allain, and I recorded three different episodes in which we interview people who tell compelling, intimate stories about death. Caleb tries to give away a Hearse. Bryan tries to make us laugh. The episodes are funny, sad, poignant, brave, and heartwarming. You can check out the first season of episodes HERE.