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.

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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.

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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:

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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!



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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:

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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

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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 knittingsoul.com.

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.

Sometimes It Seems Like I Am the Ghost in the Room

Photo by Jean-Pierre Brungs via Unsplash
Photo by Jean-Pierre Brungs via Unsplash

The first Advent Letter to Those We’ve Lost is written by Rebecca Mast. Her husband Daniel died in a tragic accident in May of 2013, and while I never met Daniel, it’s clear to me that he was a talented photographer, a doting father, and a loving husband. Daniel and Rebecca had two children when he died, and she went on to deliver their third child in the months after he passed away. Here is the letter from Rebecca to Daniel.

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Beloved Warrior,

It’s lonely here. The busyness and cheer are loud in my aching ears. I used to love this time, love the gathering and drawing close, the excitement of family and gifts and time to hold each other against the cold. Trying to find space to both grieve and celebrate is exhausting. I don’t want to drag anyone else down into the dark that pulls at my soul, but it’s isolating to feel so singular in this season of together. I want to make good memories for these three little faces that look to me for their cues, but the weight of performance, of responsibility, of expectation…it’s all too much. You were my social buffer, the safe place in the crowd, the reassurance from across the room, the anchor in the storm of activity. I feel untethered. Lost in the crowd. I can drift to the outside and observe the melding of families and feel like I’m melting away. I am not my best self without you.

Sometimes it seems like I am the ghost in the room.

We will hang your stocking again this year and the kids and I will write you letters to put in them. I will make space for them to miss you and try not to insist they feel what I feel. I will try and let myself cry – and also let myself laugh – without being afraid of everyone’s opinions on how happy or sad I am. The pressure to be well, to be better than last year, to have pulled myself together “by now,” is overwhelming. And maybe it’s all in my head. All my own expectations and disappointments. But grief is not linear and healing doesn’t come like it does with a physical wound; rather, my heart is sewn up and split open repeatedly. There is no space to fall apart and the terror of ruining the Holidays for people you love because of your emotional mess is debilitating at times. I want to be okay but I don’t want to pretend. I miss you.

I miss your eyes – seeing how you saw our children. These particles of us that have become so much more than reflections of our own selves. I need someone else to exclaim over the growth and change and wonder of watching babies become children and children become more adult. I need to step back and observe you loving on them, observe your adoration and enthusiasm for their lives and beings. I get so caught up in the daily overwhelming of caring for their needs that I forget to see them in the whole. I miss the rhythm of our life together and I can’t keep up with this new life with which I’m left. I wish I didn’t have to do this without you.

I keep looking for the hope that Christmas is supposed to represent and it’s been hard to find lately. I’m still waiting for you…despite knowing you aren’t walking through the door again. But I see your love in your son’s hands on my face when he says he loves me. I see you in your daughter’s smile and your other son’s laugh. I feel your love in your parents’ hugs and your siblings’ laughter. You are here in the cracks – I wish it was enough. I miss you, Beloved.

Your Beauty


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Please feel free to leave a note to Rebecca in the comments if you’d like.

If you’d like to know why I’m running this series of letters during Advent to those we’ve lost, you can find the answer HERE.

If you would like to write a letter to a loved one who has passed away, feel free to send it (500 words or less) to the Contact tab at the top of this page. I’m sorry but I can’t guarantee it will be published because I’m not sure if I’ll continue the series or not. But feel free to submit one if you’d like, and I promise I’ll read it.

Finally, 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 rarely stops eating. The episodes are funny, sad, poignant, and heartwarming. You can check out the first season of episodes HERE.



When the Good is Hard to Find


Today, I’m over at the wonderful site You Are Here writing about how we found home again:

As the months passed, I found work. We settled into a routine and made new friends. We found a church to call home. The things we had lost in Virginia would not be replaced, but there were good things to be found, even in that new place.

It can sometimes be hard to believe there is still good in the world. It can be so hard to find, especially after The Move or The Diagnosis or The Divorce. But it’s still there. We might not be ready to discover it right away, but the world will thaw, and the good will appear in the most unlikely of places.

(Click HERE to read the rest of the post.)


The Real View From the Top – A Guest Post By Dustin Fife


Today’s post is brought to you by Dustin Fife: novelist, blogger, Youtuber, and podcaster. Enjoy!

What’s it like at “the top?” How will it feel to rise to the levels of success we currently wish and dream of.

I don’t know. Really. I have no idea. But I suspect it’s not as glamorous as we up-lookers think.

I think sometimes the problem is that we see those who’ve “made it” (whatever that means) and assume there’s something inherently different about them–that they’ve got something we don’t have, that the pixie dust fell on them and blew off into the atmosphere before it could land on us.

After all, that’s what the “top dawgs” seem to suggest. Right?

The story

Alright, alright. I’ll quit my yapping and get to the story. (Storytelling is what I do, after all). Several years ago, the missus and the “me” were talking to a struggling photography student of ours. Said student was desperate to start a new career (and I mean desperate) and struggling (and I mean….oh, you get it). There was a moment in the conversation where the student said, “Maybe I should just give it up. It’s obvious I’m not going to make it.

We did the best we could to encourage the fledgling photog, but he remained irredeemably depressed.

Fast forward a year. *cue noise of a cassette tape fast-forwarding*

Said student (we’ll call him Jim. It’s about time he has a name) had made it. Something happened and the dude found his niche. And with that discovery, he skyrocketed to the NY Times best photographer list. (If there was such a list…okay, so I’m exaggerating. He wasn’t that successful, but he did find quite a bit of success).

During an interview with Jim, someone asked how he found such success. You want to know what Jim said?


Er…nothing of interest, anyway. In other words, not once did Jim make any mention of his past struggles. Not once did he talk about how close he came to giving up because he was failing!

And it’s not that I was mad he didn’t attribute any of his success to me or my wife (and rightfully so….we had little to do with his success). I was frustrated because he had robbed so many people of the opportunity to see there is no magic pixey dust for success. He missed the chance to tell his “fans” that, yes, he had insecurities. He had doubts. And, if you persevered like he did, maybe you could overcome the same failures.

I admit–I’m a bit arrogant (and a tad nonconformadistic [yes, I know it’s a made-up word, but it sounds cool]). If I hear somebody famous is in the building, I purposely stay in my room because I don’t care about somebody who pretends they have it figured out.

You want to know who my heroes are? My heroes are the ones who overcome a crippling weakness and become something despite their weaknesses. My heroes are those who are “at the top” and yet admit that, holy cow, they are needy.

So, in full disclosure, let me tell you something. I don’t have it figured out. The “tagline” of my blog is “lessons learned.” It should probably be “insights I once gained that I’m trying to remember but keep forgetting so maybe I’ll post it on this blog to a modest audience in hopes that the added level of accountability will finally get me to invest enough energy to drill that lesson into my head once and for all.” (But my marketing director [me] favored the brevity of “Lessons Learned.”).

And maybe, just maybe, some day I will be at the “top”–my books will sell millions and they can’t build servers large enough to send packets of web data to all my visitors. If I get there (or maybe I should say when I get there….let’s be optimistic!), I’m not going to forget how stinkin’ hard this is. I won’t lie that this has been tough and it will be tough.

Let me conclude with the secret of life–nobody has it figured out. We all struggle. We all find success and we all fail miserably. I suppose the ultimate “lesson learned” is we keep trying. Never give up. And when we make it to the “top,” let’s not sip our fine Spanish cocktails and enjoy the view of those who are weeping as they trudge the same path. Let’s not forget our own broken goals litter the same road.

Dustin Fife: writer of science fiction and inspirational stories about everyday peopleHi! I’m Dustin. I am a novelist, podcaster, YouTuber, and blogger. I write science fiction, as well as stories about everyday humans with everyday struggles. (Think Humans of NY meets Chicken Soup for the Soul.) I’d love you to visit my website and read some fantastic stories, or subscribe to my weekly podcast. I’m looking forward to connecting!