An open letter to my oldest son Jonathon…
You called me the other night and forewarned me, “Mom, this is deep, but important and I want an answer”.
I heard you out and finally responded, “I will get back to you on that”.
Roughly a half an hour after hanging up the phone with you, I received your text, “Don’t forget!”
Remember what you said?
Remember how you justified it?
A few months ago you said, “Why would God give me this mind if he knew I was gonna question. I’m probably not a good follower because I question too much. But didn’t He know I was gonna be like this?”
You know how I sometimes grab my phone and start typing in the middle of conversations? It’s usually because I’m making a note and quoting words that I hear because they hit me profoundly and I want to remember them. I want to think about them later, long after the moment has passed. I made note of that remark.
First off Jono, you don’t need justification for wondering about the things you wonder about.
One thing we definitely agree on is that it is curiosity serves as a catalyst for searching for knowledge, understanding, learning, and wisdom. The greatest of these is wisdom. I will leave it up to you to figure out the difference and why that is the most important.
I know that you have thought about death from a young age and all that it entails. I think most of your siblings have experienced this as well. As I believe that the majority of individuals who experience death of a loved one start to grapple with the concept… what it means to live, die, and all the stuff in between.
You never needed to justify your question to me. I know you well.
WHEN YOU DIE MOM, I WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU WANT US TO LIVE OUR LIVES. AND IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN IF WE ARE HONEST. AND HOPEFULLY YOU DIE BEFORE US, BECAUSE THE ALTERNATIVE WOULD BE TRAGIC FOR YOU AND AGAINST THE NATURE OF HOW THINGS SHOULD WORK. I WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU WANT US TO REMEMBER YOU. I WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU DEFINE A GOOD LIFE. I WANT TO KNOW HOW YOU WANT US TO CARRY ON WITHOUT YOU.
First off, Aaron knows this part, but maybe you should be aware as well. If given a choice, I want to be buried in the back yard. If the back yard doesn’t suffice due to obstacles – find me a field, close to a river bank, or babbling brook – someplace weeping willows thrive. Do not spend money on a cemetery plot – that’s just plain weird to me and I don’t want to be buried in a cemetery full of people I never knew. Having experiences with funerals, NO ONE is to buy me a $7,000 casket. I don’t care how pretty it is. I want you all to gather together and build me a pine box. It will give you all a chance to laugh, grieve, and work together as a team processing through stuff together. What you do with it and how you all make it, is up to you guys. Flowers can be picked from a field. Plant a willow tree over me. Years later, when the willow is strong, hang a swing, build a tree house, or do both. Don’t forget the hammock.
I want music – all the music that drove you guys nuts while growing up that reminds you of me that you begged me “Not this again”. Let it be, Roll me away, I need a hero (you will all laugh remembering me yelling ‘Wooo” at just the right moment), Tiny Dancer, Lose Yourself, Runaway Train, etc.
I want food. Lots of good food – no chicken!
And at the end, I want you to blow off fireworks (if available). There’s just something about fireworks that I have always loved. They remind me that I am alive. They bring awe to me. I want you guys to remember that you still are here and to see the beauty in the darkness. I really want fireworks – just make sure you warn the neighbors, in the event that one may be experiencing PTSD.
I want lots of stories, lots of laughter, lots of hugs (good hugs – not those crappy one-handed-so-called-hugs), sharing of memories from those you don’t know, and honest eulogies. God, do not put me on a pedestal. Be careful, because sometimes we do that when we lose those we love – I’ve not only done it, but have witnessed it occurring from others.
So how do I want you all to live your lives after I’m gone? The same way I want you to live your lives while I still breathe.
I want you to question things your taught, not defiantly, but critically thinking things through. Never feel stupid for asking what others say are silly questions. Ask whatever question you need in order to come to the answer you need. But, know that sometimes you can ask all the right questions, and there is no answer. There are some questions in life that you will never get answers to – or the answers that sit well with your heart. When that happens, learn to LET IT BE. There are just some things in life that we will never know answers to. Maybe it comes down to “I don’t know”. Maybe it comes down to faith. Maybe it comes down to acceptance. It may be a combination of factors, but regardless, you all have to be okay with unanswered questions, because they can and do happen throughout life.
Remember when you were little over at the house on Durfee? Remember when we were coloring? I told you when you color, you didn’t have to stay within the lines. You could color outside the lines and you could use any color you wanted, even if it didn’t make sense (i.e. pink elephants, blue flamingos). You were not limited. I want you to understand there is a time and place for coloring outside the lines. It was not a metaphor for going against all rules or lines set before you. It was a lesson that coloring was a time for flow. It was a place and time for you to lose yourself, while gaining yourself at the same time. It was art therapy and never, ever underestimate the value of it. Some do this by yoga, some by running, some by weight-lifting, some by hiking, some by boating, some by music, some by gardening, etc. The means differ, but the results are the same. There’s a mental balancing that occurs. Find your yoga… whatever that may be. You all will need this many times throughout life – life demands balance.
Evaluate your values. Every single one of them. Take an ethics class (you will struggle mentally, but it is so worth it)! This will help all of you really get to the nitty gritty and decipher the difference between ethics, moral, and values. Your values are things that not only I have taught you since you were little, but things that experiences taught you. Critically think and evaluate them. In order to stand for something, you need to understand why you’re standing. Also, remember your values can change or shift throughout life – they are not always set in stone.
When you find yourself selling out, remember your values, and back-track. It’s okay if you screw up, you are human and you are gonna falter, but recognize it, and remedy it – ASAP.
God, please don’t quit! Life can get very challenging, even down-right hard, do not quit. Get oxygen when you need it, but hang on and don’t you quit.
Understand what your meaning of success is. Personally, my meaning of success does not equate to society’s standard. I’m okay with that. You need to each figure out what success means to you and go for it. You do not need to defend it to others – just live your lives accordingly. Obviously, don’t be idiots with this and look for justification where there is none. Don’t hurt others for your own gratification, etc.
That brings me to the next thing… at the end of each of your lives, will you be able to say you learned through your mistakes? Will you be able to say I did better when I learned? Look up the poem “The Man in the Glass”. I gave it to someone once and it was one that made a big impact on me – around the time when I was where you are at – questioning my life and what it meant to live. At the end of every day, at the end of every mountain climb, at the end of our journeys, it all comes down to us. Every choice and decision we made – are we okay with our choices? If not, turn around, or side-step. Whatever you need to do… do it. Doesn’t matter if we had the perfect story or not, we create the ending…make it worthy!
Never strive for happiness. Happiness is a fleeting emotion that comes and go. Strive for content. You can have a shitty day and not find happiness in it. However, you can have a shitty day and still be content.
Be a shelter for your siblings, family, or friends that need it. Light the way and bring them home if they get lost. Do this for each other because it matters. This is written metaphorically, so you will need to read between the lines and apply it appropriately. Follow your heart when it comes to this.
Which reminds me… listen to your head, but follow your heart – with almost everything: Relationships, marriage, parenting, friendships, strangers, career, etc.
Say what you gotta say. Even if it doesn’t end the way you want it to. This isn’t a free pass for being hurtful or rude, but don’t let things fester. Throw it out on the table and go from there. Sometimes you will have great conversations, sometimes you may be misinterpreted, and sometimes it may end badly. Say the words on your heart – and Jonathon, don’t let alcohol consumption alone enable this for you. Work on that one. Being vulnerable is strength, not weakness.
About vulnerability…. It’s scary as hell – I get it. But those ‘perfect’ people who never show vulnerability… they are a freakin’ mess and as unreal as they come. Maybe you are particular with who you show vulnerability to – that’s okay… but don’t run from it. Denying it leads to a host of issues… In the quiet corners of ourselves, we are all vulnerable and it’s what makes us human. For the love of God, be human – don’t try to be a super hero or stoic!
In regards to stoicism, ask for help when you need it and it’s okay to cry. There will come a day when you need help with something – nobody is good at everything. Drop your defenses and just get help with what you need help with. And if you need to cry – CRY. Scream at the corn if you need to. Ball up in a corner and give yourself a hug if you need. Point is, don’t stay there – refer back to ‘don’t quit’ and go get assistance. Whether it’s assistance with getting a mortgage, having a baby and being scared out of your mind, marriage, a lousy job that you question if you made the right move, or a fight you had with someone, etc. – seek wisdom and guidance always. Never be too proud for this. And listen, mull it over…
Moderation. Everything in moderation. Enough said.
Find and understand faith. This I cannot spell out for you. It has to make sense to each of you or it’s moot.
Always give grace – especially when it’s hard. This is especially important for it has been grace that has sustained me when all else failed. I hope you all come to understand this concept for yourselves and recognize what it is and the value therein.
Forgive – even the unforgivable. This isn’t about them – it’s about you. It doesn’t matter if they ever admit to wrong doing or hurting you – forgive them anyways. There will come a day in each of your lives when you will be standing at a crossroads – forgive or not forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to be an idiot and subject yourself to being hurt time and time again, but forgive those that do you wrong. Because honestly, you’re going to wrong others too – and we need forgiveness from others as well. If you don’t forgive, you will find bitterness growing in your hearts. We have spoken about bitter people in the past. They distance everyone from their lives because their bitterness takes over their hearts and lives – do NOT become bitter. Learn to forgive. If you don’t, you will grow old alone and… well, bitter. Miserable. Figure it out and forgive.
There are probably a million more things I could come up with Jonathon, but honestly it boils down to each of you. I believe we are ultimately responsible for our own choices (past a certain point in life) and we have to be okay with the choices we made. Not being okay with our choices – well, therein lies depression, anxiety, etc. And I’m not saying that you need to live perfectly without screwing up. My God, you’ve already screwed up – all of us have. The point is to learn as you go and make those lessons mean something. You know?
Live a good life.
You will each come to decide what a good life is and what it means to each of you.
And this answers your question.
I want each of you to live a good life.
What does that mean to you?
Figure that out.
You know the lessons I have taught you. You know what matters to me, but I am not you and you are not me.
We have to each come to this on our own.
It’s our own unique journey – this gift of life.
You only get one shot.
Make it a good one.
PS – I love you. And I’m proud of all of you. You all got this – this thing called life. You know what you need to do, even when it’s hard. Even when it’s challenging. Even when you have questions. I believe in all of you.
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