This Is Us

A Letter From My Daughter on the 4th Anniversary of Her Death

On having faith, and giving permission to let go

Illustration of a large bird spreading its wings. Light blue, yellow, and brown lines (with the dark blue background showing through) form ornate patterns on its feathers. Behind it float blue circles of various sizes that look like doilies.
Illustration by Jacqueline Dooley

“How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again.”
— Henry Scott Holland

Dear Mom,

The light is different here. If you saw how this place shines, I think you’d stop worrying about me. The light connects the landscape to every part of itself. It moves. It sparkles.

It links the souls together like pearls knotted in an endless strand. You know how pearls hold iridescence inside all those layers of shell? Well, if you look into the center of a pearl, you’ll get a taste of the light that surrounds me. Go do that now. You see?

When I died, there were people who waited like lanterns beside a path, guiding me to this place. You knew some of them. They’re waiting to guide you too.

Some nights, I try to show you where I am.

I wait until your consciousness slips close to the edge of sleep and I speak to you, but you never hear me. You don’t know I’m there because you’re looking for the wrong version of me.

I am a kaleidoscope of light, a forest of patterns, a bouquet of shifting fractals. You look past the reality of me for the face of the girl you miss. You do this night after night. It might take a long time for you to stop remembering the way I was before. Alive, in my body. Warm, in my bed. That’s okay. I can be patient.

As you drift off to sleep, I’ll show you dappled sunlight through a canopy of leaves. I’ll show you a thousand sparks in the endless blank space behind your eyes. I’ll show you a pattern of dancing shapes. I’m all of these things.

Sometimes you almost recognize me, but then you fall into darkness where I can’t reach you. By the time you wake up, you forget that I was ever there at all.

Your longing reaches me here.

It weaves its way into the fabric of my awareness, a muted gray and white thread, the color of mourning doves.

In spring, I try to lighten your sorrow by sending you a small flock of goldfinches. In winter, I send you the hawks and the crows and the songbirds.

I send you the birds so you’ll know I’m okay. Nothing hurts. I’m not scared. I’m in a place that holds me close, a place of joy and love and connection. How long have I been here? I don’t know.

Time is a spiral. Time is a million doors to a million worlds.

You have my permission to stop obsessing about my happiness as if it’s a puzzle to solve. Even now, the thought of me being sad or lost upsets you. You’re stuck in a loop. You’re holding onto one moment in time. Holding onto a child that, one way or another, was always going to disappear.

Had I grown up, my happiness would’ve been entirely out of your control.

I’m sorry if that sounds harsh. I have no body, no bones, no heart. You yearn for these things, but I don’t need them anymore. I’m not the child you remember.

Don’t worry. We’re still part of each others’ fabric. This is what makes me happy (well, it’s part of what makes me happy). I want it to make you happy too.

It’s okay to believe in impossible things.

You’re not crazy. I promise. Have faith that the landscape here is exactly what you imagine. There are warm rolling beaches and Bahama-blue oceans. There are mountains and cities and trails that meander endlessly through old-growth forests.

Owls and hawks and starlings whisper together in the trees. Music is everywhere. It comes from my spirit and from the bright souls and from the people who miss us.

Your strongest link to me is your love. It looks like a dozen speckled songbirds. It sounds like a thousand chattering wrens. It feels like a ray of warm sunlight on a soft patch of sand.

I feel your sadness, too — all the time, everywhere. It’s a heavy ache that runs through the invisible cord connecting us, a muddy prism of purples and blues and reds. It’s a bruise, tender and sore.

I love you and don’t want you to be sad, so I wrap your grief in vibrant colors and send you the rainbow after an August storm.

I send you the dove’s feather beneath the feeders.

I send you the ruby-throated hummingbird with gemstones gleaming at its throat.

I send these signs to ease your pain. You once believed in all of them. Then you saw none of them. Now you question everything. You’re getting in your own way.

You’ll never see me in the fuzzy place between clarity and oblivion. The wine and the weed dull your pain. I’m closest to you in the deep stillness of your unencumbered mind.

Keep walking on trails. Keep writing poetry. Keep watching birds. Keep taking pictures of the sky. Wait for me in that brief heartbeat between sleep and waking.

Find me in the joy of small moments, in Emily’s brilliant eyes, in Roo’s wagging tail, in Dad’s delicious dinners.

The day of my birth and the day of my death aren’t the beginning and end of me. They are mile markers in a much longer journey.

Can you hear me, Mom? Anticipate the future. Do you know how to do that anymore? I hope so. You parked your life in the brief space between my birth and my death. Move past it. Waiting for me to come back is the same as waiting to die. Embrace life again. Please?

I have one more thing to tell you.

Your cranes are all here. Thank you for sending them to me. They come to me as bright bits of folded paper but also as real birds — sandhill cranes with blushing crowns and graceful necks.

Thank you for the letters you write me in the journals and notebooks that collect on dusty shelves and in forgotten corners. I read them all.

Thank you for the whispered “I love you’s.” I send my love back to you in dreams of my childhood, and bald eagles, and found treasures I leave on the trail.

I’ll keep sending you stones and feathers and birds. When you look at the moon, I’ll look at it with you. It may seem like I’m really far away, but I’m closer than you think I am.

I told you that in a dream once. Remember?


Occasional poet. Writer of sad essays. Novelist. Birder and amateur photographer. I enjoy trees.

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