Heather seemed to tune into and then ask the question “what roll does Natalie’s death play in my life now?” I made a few jokes, effectively denied that there was any, accepted that there was some and should be and finally said that I wasn’t sure other than being sure that life was going to end some day. She continued to ask questions, tough questions that I didn’t want to answer and questions that made me feel like she didn’t want anything to do with me. But I trust her and tried to stay with the topic. It was hard because what I say about Natalie’s death is scripted, well rehearsed and automatic. Yet she continued and as I shrank, as I have made so many of my clients shrink, something began to occur.
When I realized that no matter what happened between Heather and me, I needed to clear the space in my past of these stories. She encouraged me to write a letter to Natalie and one to my father explaining the things I was grateful for having learned because of them. Below is the letter to Natalie.
I am writing you this letter to let you know how grateful I am to have been in your life and for all of the experiences that our life together brought.
You were my first real girl friend so much of what I know about passionate love came from our time together. You gave so purely to me and you always talked about our relationship and our future in a way that made me feel amazing; the things is, I didn’t realize just how amazing that was at the time. There were times when I took you and your heart for granted because I believed love was easy and finding someone who was capable of giving it so freely wouldn’t be difficult. It has taken me a very long time to reach the same level of connection with anyone else. Now that I’m older and can see things more clearly I want to say thank you for sharing your love with me in a way that let me know that I was worth it.
I need to say thank you for being loyal, supportive and standing beside me when I needed to make the tough decisions. When I didn’t get to be a TA during my first year at Brock, you never made me feel bad about it, in fact, you explained why I didn’t get the job perfectly and I still use this description when coaching others about their view of a failure to get an opportunity. When I made the decision to overload my schedule and take on more classes, you stood beside me, proud that I was being fearless in my pursuit of academic success. You never made me choose between going out and having fun or doing my school work and you celebrated my good marks with me. Thank you for believing in my dream of getting a masters degree, a PhD and becoming a professor.
Okay, the things you may not know anything about.
I need to say thank you for the experiences that your death brought into my life. Some of these were really hard to live through and I made some potential limiting choices as a result of the thoughts and stories I told myself about them, but now that we’re almost 2 decades on, I’m able to see how they were neither right or wrong and were simply a part of my journey. I’m growing more confident that the stories I told myself were exactly the opposite of how the world is or was, so here you go.
I’m grateful for the sense of loss that I experienced because of you dying. There was a big hole left, while mostly a narrative, it came to represent what can happen when someone is gone. Leigh once told me that I felt as bad as I did because I loved you as much as I did, and I get that. People are important and I will always remember this because you left my life and the world so completely. Knowing this allowed me to connect with people in a way that has added so much value to my experience here and I think it has been useful to others. I learned to listen better because you never know when you are having your last conversation with someone. And everyone will always have their last conversation with us.
I’m grateful for the sense of meaninglessness in life that your death showed me because it allowed me to create a reason for being any time to suit the situation. There have been moments in the last 18 years that I was moved and performed fearless and great actions simply because I knew that there is no meaning to any of it. Through your death I learned to be of service to others who had been effected by death or were dying. I’ve never regarded them as victims, just fellow human being who have been rocked by the challenges of life. At worst they got a friendly ear to actual hear their words and at best they got a temporary partner to share and live their pain. Others were not alone because you taught me what is was like to exist in a state of grief, the one common emotion that all of us will eventually experience.
I am grateful for the escapist decisions I made to help manage life. There were moments that I regarded much of the last 18 years as a big waste of time, but presently I look at them as some of the greatest lessons that a human being is capable of acquiring. I didn’t die during any of those moments, I didn’t really suffer. There were times when I thought that I had lost my mind, but it always came back. I had fun running, I really did, but it got boring and I started to need more out of life. In fact, some of the escapist behaviors will go down as the most dangerous things that I will ever do; not strategic or calculated, just silly and dangerous. But I lived through all of them and now that I stand on my own two feet, clean and in control, I am forgiving myself for those things because I see how they have created the possibility for me to help others avoid some of them. I have a wisdom that many have but don’t ever share because they remain lost in the behavior.
I am grateful for the challenges of having to come to terms with your death and for how this impacted the analytical nature of my brain. This is what will make me most of what I will become because I needed to dig deep to manufacture an understanding that was compatible with someone as young and health dying one night without warning or purpose. It was tough, but my brain is good, my mind creative and my desire for answer strong enough to figure things out. The accuracy of what is created doesn’t matter because they are all stories, but the fact that there is something is what means the most. I’m rarely stuck for words or an explanation and what does come out of my mouth is a well processed and richly synthesized reason for whatever.
In life, you taught me how to love, you taught me that I am worth loving and you taught me that the right people will support and stand behind me. Thank you for those lessons!
In death, you taught me how to grieve, how to be of service to others and how to live a life based on the knowledge that everything will end eventually. I miss you and while I don’t know if we would still be in communication I believe that your life should not have been cut short. But it was, and the impact of your death changed and shaped me. I’m proud of who I have become, how I have grown and I am grateful for the lessons and the impact you have had on my life from the moment we meet.
Thank you Natalie! You will always remain a dear friend!