Have you ever been prompted to reach out to someone? To write a letter, send them a bit of encouragement? I have from time to time. I would love to say that I was always obedient to the nudge to do something. But I have not. So many times, I will think that I need to send that card or make that call, and then I forget or talk myself out of it. I would tell myself that they would think that my gesture was silly or that it was so out of our typical exchange that it doesn’t make sense.
One of those prompts was received in 2013 and was to reach out to my brother. We were ten years apart in age, and that meant he always intimidated me a little bit. HE was the BIG brother. His life and mind always felt mysterious to me, growing up. I was starting school, and he was wrapping it up. I was a teenager, and he was a dad. But I still admired him, and I wanted him to know that. I knew that he would likely find this gesture silly or maybe a little uncomfortable. We were not an openly emotional family, and if you were, you were seen as different and sensitive. But the nudge was still there to write the letter. I couldn’t shake it, and as hard as I tried couldn’t talk myself out of it.
I told him what I admired about him, what I saw in his life’s story. That although we were not intimately close that I loved him. That there were things that I carried with me from childhood that influenced me. Our relationship was not as close as I would have liked. We were so different. But he was my only brother. I wanted the best for him. I was grateful that life seemed to be good and peaceful. I swallowed hard and sent the letter. I didn’t expect a response but also hoped it wasn’t seen and mocked.
I am one of the “sensitive and emotional” in our family. I can sometimes be a little much for the stoic Scandinavians. I blame some of that on my strengths and also marrying into an Italian family. Italians can tend to love hard and fight loud. Both of which will send Scandinavians into their separate corners for years.
I sent the letter. I think it may have even been around Thanksgiving or Christmas. I put my insecurities aside and decided even if I didn’t receive a response from my brother, I had done a kind and loving thing. It is sometimes more about our hearts than our egos. In February, I received a response. A letter. WHAT.
I open the letter, and it begins with something so like his sense of humor. “I got your letter. It felt like I was reading my eulogy”. Hmmm. Ok. Haha. I tucked this letter away. I thought that it was nice to receive and went on with life.
That year was the year my life changed.
Everything was shuffled to the side.
Big chunks at a time. (reflecting back, I wonder if my brother was shaken that I would have sent such a sentimental letter and then be diagnosed with Stage IV cancer not even a year later.)
2014, 2015, 2016…life settle into a little more routine. Change is now the new normal. 2017, 2018, 2019…life has it’s usual chaos and ups and downs. Some of the downs are complicated emotionally, but we are still here. 2020. My brother passes away suddenly while out running a favorite errand. There is no warning or definitive cause. I am reeling. All the complicated emotions that surround a loved one’s death. Did he know that I loved him? Where was his faith? Was he happy?
All the swirling emotions that ricochet around your mind and make you physically ill. Why would he pass away at 60 years old? Why alone. Why in his car. These are answers forever lost with his passing. I am sad for what could have been and what will never be.
This last week I am rifling through some papers and books from 2014 when my life took such an intense upheaval. I find his letter. It takes my breath away. His words of assurance. The words my heart needs to hear today. My brother says he has faith. He says he loves me even though we aren’t in our day to day lives that he peeks in on my FB to see that I am doing alright.
I am reminded that even in the chaos and pain- we are held. We are provided for. We are loved.
I am here to tell you to write the letter. Send that card. Do it today.
Even if it feels uncomfortable.
Even when the relationship is not super intimate or easy, and these words don’t flow naturally between you. Even if you haven’t spoken in some time, even if the words come out wrong and feel like a eulogy, what is the worst thing that could happen? You don’t hear back? Your loved one thinks you are super sappy? With a tear-soaked smile, I am here to tell you that even if it appears sappy, it means something and is worth sending. Even if the person shrugs it off- it is good for your heart to have, “said the words you wished you’d said.” Don’t rehash the last argument. Treat this as a fresh start. If these were your last words to your loved one, what would they be or what would you say. The risk is worth it. Say I love you even when it feels risky and complicated.