Below is a letter written to a 58 year old man whose 22 year old son was killed by a drunk driver. It's written as a list. I liked 21, 22 and 23. (the letter was written by "Sugar" who writes every Thursday on therumpus.net. )
Dear Living Dead Dad,
3. You don’t need me to tell you how to be human again. You are there, in all of your humanity, shining unimpeachably before every person reading these words right now.
4. I am so sorry for your loss. I am so sorry for your loss. Iamsosorryforyourloss.
5. You could stitch together a quilt with all the times that that has been and will be said to you. You could make a river of consolation words. But they won’t bring your son back. They won’t keep that man from getting into his car and careening through that red light at the precise moment your son was in his path.
6. You’ll never get that.
7. I hope you remember that when you peel back the rage and you peel back the idle thoughts of suicide and you peel back all the things you imagined your son would be but wasn’t and you peel back the man who got into the car and drove when he shouldn’t have and you peel back the man who the man your son loved now loves and you peel back all the good times you had and you peel back all the things you wish you’d done differently, at the center of that there is your pure father love that is stronger than anything.
8. No one can touch that love or alter it or take it away from you. Your love for your son belongs only to you. It will live in you until the day you die.
9. Small things such as this have saved me: how much I love my mother—even after all these years. How powerfully I carry her within me. My grief is tremendous but my love is bigger. So is yours. You are not grieving your son’s death because his death was ugly and unfair. You’re grieving it because you loved him truly. The beauty in that is greater than the bitterness of his death.
10. Allowing such small things into your consciousness will not keep you from your suffering, but it will help you survive the next day.
11. I keep imagining you lying on your bed and wailing. I keep thinking that hard as it is to do it’s time for you to go silent and lift your head from the bed and listen to what’s there in the wake of your wail.
12. It’s your life. The one you must make in the obliterated place that’s now your world, where everything you used to be is simultaneously erased and omnipresent, where you are forevermore a living dead dad.
13. Your boy is dead, but he will continue to live within you. Your love and grief will be unending, but it will also shift in shape. There are things about your son’s life and your own that you can’t understand now. There are things you will understand in one year, and in ten years, and twenty.
14. The word obliterate comes from the Latin obliterare. Ob means against; literaremeans letter or script. A literal translation is being against the letters. It was impossible for you to write me a letter, so you made me a list instead. It is impossible for you to go on as you were before, so you must go on as you never have.
15. It’s wrong that this is required of you. It’s wrong that your son died. It will always be wrong.
16. The obliterated place is equal parts destruction and creation. The obliterated place is pitch black and bright light. It is water and parched earth. It is mud and it is manna. The real work of deep grief is making a home there.
17. You have the power to withstand this sorrow. We all do, though we all claim not to. We say, “I couldn’t go on,” instead of saying we hope we won’t have to. That’s what you’re saying in your letter to me, Living Dead Dad. You’ve made it so fucking long without your sweet boy and now you can’t take it anymore. But you can. You must.
18. More will be revealed. Your son hasn’t yet taught you everything he has to teach you. He taught you how to love like you’ve never loved before. He taught you how to suffer like you’ve never suffered before. Perhaps the next thing he has to teach you is acceptance. And the thing after that, forgiveness.
19. Forgiveness bellows from the bottom of the canoe. There are doubts, dangers, unfathomable travesties. There are stories you’ll learn if you’re strong enough to travel there. One of them might cure you.
20. When my son was six he said, “We don’t know how many years we have for our lives. People die at all ages.” He said it without anguish or remorse, without fear or desire. It has been healing to me to accept in a very simple way that my mother’s life was 45 years long, that there was nothing beyond that. There was only my expectation that there would be—my mother at 89, my mother at 63, my mother at 46. Those things don’t exist. They never did.
21. Think: my son’s life was 22 years long. Breathe in.
22. Think: my son’s life was 22 years long. Breathe out.
23. There is no 23.
24. You go on by doing the best you can, you go on by being generous, you go on by being true, you go on by offering comfort to others who can’t go on, you go on by allowing the unbearable days to pass and allowing the pleasure in other days, you go on by finding a channel for your love and another for your rage.
25. Letting go of expectation when it comes to one’s children is close to impossible. The entire premise of our love for them has to do with creating and fostering and nurturing people who will outlive us. To us, they are not so much who they are as who they will become.
26. The entire premise of your healing demands that you do let go of expectation. You must come to understand and accept that your son will always be only the man he actually was: the 22 year-old who made it as far as that red light. The one who loved you deeply. The one who long ago forgave you for asking why he didn’t like girls. The one who would want you to welcome his boyfriend’s new boyfriend into your life. The one who would want you to find joy and peace. The one who would want you to be the man he didn’t get to be.
27. To be anything else dishonors him.
28. The kindest and most meaningful thing anyone ever says to me is: your mother would be proud of you. Finding a way in my grief to become the woman who my mother raised me to be is the most important way I have honored my mother. It has been the greatest salve to my sorrow. The strange and painful truth is that I’m a better person because I lost my mom young. When you say you experience my writing as sacred what you are touching is the divine place within me that is my mother. Sugar is the temple I built in my obliterated place. I’d give it all back in a snap, but the fact is, my grief taught me things. It showed me shades and hues I couldn’t have otherwise seen. It required me to suffer. It compelled me to reach.
29. Your grief has taught you too, Living Dead Dad. Your son was your greatest gift in his life and he is your greatest gift in his death too. Receive it. Let your dead boy be your most profound revelation. Create something of him.
30. Make it beautiful.