Sunday, December 24, 2017

Looking forward, looking back. An open letter to Kevin on Christmas Eve

Dear Kevin,

I am missing you terribly right now. Four years ago today we were trying to do all the things we usually did on Christmas Eve: We mulled wine, you put on Christmas music, we stayed in pajamas for as long as we could, we wrapped presents. We admired the Christmas tree and decided against any last minute shopping. We were trying to pretend it was normal, but it wasn't. This was the first Christmas Eve when we wouldn't be seeing the kids the next day, so the present pile was pretty small. We were also both so careful with you. You were so sick. We didn't know yet that this was our last Christmas together.

In some ways I am grateful for that ignorance. Had we known earlier, had you been diagnosed a month or two before, that Christmas would have been consumed by treatment and celebration around the edges. It is so unlikely it would have saved your life; at best it would only have prolonged it by a few months.

That's the story I tell myself, anyway. The guilt is sometimes still pretty intense, that I didn't insist on a CT scan earlier, that I didn't scream at you to go to the ER sooner. I can see you grimacing at me, reminding me that I did the best I could. Some days I know that. Some days I think I would do anything for those extra few months.

Today, four years later, I am in my new home in Minnesota. My new love C is driving his mother across several states so she can spend Christmas with us. I am not going to Boston because my mom needs me here. In Minnesota. (I can see you looking horrified that I moved north, into the cold.) Dad died a year and a half ago. Is he with you? Will you see Christmas in together, watching over all of us from Boston to Minnesota to California? I hope so.

Not long before you died, you asked me to promise you that I would be okay. I promised, knowing it was a lie. Now I know it was and was not. I am okay. And I am not. I feel as though I have become the embodiment of Whitman's, Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.

I think that's part of the essential nature of loss. If we let ourselves love deeply then we will, at some point, experience grief. We will never be the same. If we are lucky then we have a chance to build something new, but the broken parts never go away. I have become the city of Troy, built and buried then built again upon the shards.

I know you are still extant in some way but not the way I yearn for, even as I know if you were I would not have the wonders in my life now. It is an odd tension to hold. Very well, then I contradict myself. I want both.

Tonight C and I will have dinner with our mothers. We will go to our home, full of things you would find familiar and new, and wrap presents. I will admire the shimmering lights and the soft blur from tears. I will look for you in the lights. We will drink hot cider and celebrate life in this broken world. I will love you both, and find myself living two lives simultaneously. What else is there to do but live, love, and be grateful?

I love you and always will,
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. "I have become the city of Troy, built and buried then built again upon the shards."

    This. A thousand times this.

  2. A lump in my chest. I love you Laura! I gear his voice when I go to Arlington and I see the bike path and I remember and I feel my tired legs I hear my whines and listen to his assurance and guidance he made me love riding and nature

  3. Beautifully told. I'm sorry that you're grieving but happy you're joyful.

  4. Thank you for this beautiful story. I especially liked it when you said if you love deeply, at some point you will experience grief. That says it all.


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