Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Seven Letters to Violette Throughout her Life

This is a poor and simple attempt at bringing loss into focus. I want to see this, somehow, to understand the unbelievable.

I'm cross posting this from my personal blog. I feel kind of bad. I don't have Violette's parents permission to go writing letters to her in public, but I did it anyway. I'm going to make sure they don't mind next time I talk to them. But this tragedy, this loss, that our friends are experiencing has been too much for us this week. So I'm dealing with it the best way I know how--the only way I really can--talking and writing about it.

I've been writing all week, trying to make sense out of what has happened to friends of mine. Permit me this hubris, this poor attempt to put things into words. I can't stop doing it, so I can't say it's my last. But read, if you will, some thoughts I've written for her.

Dear Violette-

I want to tell you something about apples. Apples are very amazing things. From the smallest seed, they create a tree. The tree grows pure white flowers—blossoms—and all that flower needs to turn into an apple is sunshine, wind, rain, days, nights. From a blossom, to a green bud, to a green apple, to a red one. It drops from the tree, grows its own tree, has its own blossoms.

You were a beautiful blossom. But you won’t get the wind, rain, and sunshine that you need to grow into your own tree. It’s experience that ripens us. I want to share some of mine with you. Come along with me and we’ll take the smallest, pinhole view of your life. I want you to taste it just a little, in case you were wondering, in case you’re not sure. Take my hand, let’s walk.


Dear Violette-

You haven’t been here long, but you’ve learned many of the basic principles of life that will drive the rest of your development. You’re just that little, perfect blossom, but you know what it is to be loved, and truly bonded to others. Your day depends on your family. Your every sensation comes from them. Your view of the world is filtered through them.

Your mom gives you all that you need. She’s there like background music, always giving to you. Your brother and sister teach you how to smile. They give you something to smile about. Your dad makes you feel comfortable and safe beyond words—wrapped in a blanket of absolute love in his arms.

I’m sorry that you won’t move beyond these simple pleasures in life, but be assured that these are the pure forms of emotion that everything else is built upon. Nothing else will ever match this.


Dear Violette-

You’re five. We’ve met a few times by now, I hope. And you’ve accomplished the single greatest accomplishment of your life already—you learned how to talk.

What you don’t know is that this acquisition has really given you a way to understand the world around you. But you still don’t know how much you look up to your mom and dad. Your learning to speak was you wanting to be like them. And you want to be like them in ways that will never fully rise to the surface.

Your brother and sister show you how to act. You imitate their every move, trying to forge a connection between your world and theirs.

Do you have a little brother or sister by now who looks up to you? Who you taught how to smile?

Mom is always there when you need her. So much so that she’s not quite separate from you in your mind. You’re like a little part of her in many ways, exploring the world and returning to her with what you have learned. She makes sense of this for you. She helps you focus what it is you’ve seen, what it is you’re feeling.

Dad is still the pillar of the world. He keeps the sky in place, makes the sunsets, weaves the stars, has an answer for every question in all of creation. He is amazing to you, almost as much as you are to him.

The joy of exploration fills you most days. Other days, you fall back into that quiet happiness of being around those you love.


Dear Violette-

You’re 10 now. For the most part, the world of grown-ups is still remote and varnished; adults look like they really have-it-all-together.

But you’ve noticed a few cracks.

You’re parents are showing you something very important now: they’re showing you how to treat each other. You are seeing how to express love and appreciation and noticing the effort for the first time. You see that when mom and dad disagree—even when emotions get wrapped up—they know how to make things better, make things right again. You’re seeing that mom and dad are separate, that love binds them, that they navigate things as best they can. And showing you how to do that someday.

You’re reflection is in all of this. You are separate, you have permission to be imperfect as long as you try your best. This isn’t a sad revelation for you but a comforting one. It shows you that as you ripen—still green, but definitely and apple now—you are going to be like them after all.

You’ve probably noticed a few other things. Things that have always been around you; but you never knew you could yearn for them.

Maybe you can’t imagine going another day without riding a horse. Maybe you love the feeling of picking out your own book at the library, and at the end of the book, you can’t help but wonder what happens next.

Maybe it’s music: it’s been there all along, but it’s something you feel inside yourself too. You might want to make it yourself (remember when Mom used to sing to you?) Or maybe you want to dance with it.

Or, you might be wondering just how all this world works. You want to pull the face off of it, see the gears, watch the ticking, see it turning.

The world is open to you and you must follow your passions. These are the things that eventually, you’ll want to be when you grow up. And whatever it is that moves you, let me tell you to please trust it. Don’t look to the outside for approval, don’t look for security, follow what it is that moves you.


Dear Violette-

This is a big one. You’re 16. A big part of you that has been growing inside of you for a while is starting to be shown on the outside: your independence. Is that a red sheen we see coming through on the apple?

You know you’re ready to take the training wheels off, even if your parents don’t. You’ve watched your siblings as they’ve stretched their legs and discovered and created themselves in small ways. You want that too, don’t you?

Maybe, just maybe, you’ve put some distance between you and your parents. Maybe you’ve tried seeing what would happen if you didn’t listen to them and tried to figure things out for yourself here and there.

But in your world, things are moving fast. In your world, there is a lot that you have to try and understand very quickly. It’s these things, these important things that bring you back to your parents. You talk to them and are surprised when they understand what language you’re speaking. They pull out their own maps from years ago, and they can find out where you are—or what you’re close to, at least. They help you see the world a little better.

You have friends whose parents ignore these important things. Or crush them away with rules. But not your parents. Just like they always have, they put everything aside, put down whatever it was they were doing, and they listen to you. They give you the best gift they can at this point in your life—their attention.

They see—they know—that you’re growing. They can tell that you are getting ready to fall from the tree, to plant yourself, to grow your own blossoms. But they want you with them a little longer, so you can forgive them if they don’t always offer the answers you want to hear.

And so.


Dear Violette-

Are you 25? 30? These last ten or so years have moved so much more quickly than the first. Did you notice that? And the paths are multiplied at this point and I can’t tell you which one you took. We were holding hands through this, but now you’ve let go. You’re walking on your own and keeping your own secrets. This is as far as I can go with you, after all, and it’s yours from here, right?

That passion you felt when you were 10? I hope you’ve embraced it. I hope you’ve refined it.

The independence from 16? I hope you’ve come back to your parents, still bonded, but a full formed individual, no longer seeking independence from them but a new kind of incorporation.

There’s a chance your heart has been broken. Much of the world makes more sense with those little scars healing on your heart. You feel those places vividly. Music, art, voices, words, a scented breeze on a warm summer night—these things are powerful in your new, healing heart. It will always be healing now, you know? Never fully healed because the world doesn’t know how to be gentle with you anymore.

There’s also a chance that you’ve found love. You were born into love, immersed in it. And you might have found someone to share it with. You reinterpret it, translate it, create it with this person, with your passion, with theirs. New chemical compounds of emotions are made. Love cannot be created or destroyed—only refined.

Maybe Violette—and you’re keeping secrets here, mouth smiling to hold in those secrets from me—maybe you’ve had your own baby by now. Maybe you have grown your own tree, grown your own blossoms.

I can’t tell you what it’s like to have the life grow inside you. Feeling the movements, communing late at night when the rest of the house is asleep, silently, gently.

I can’t tell you how to walk through that baptism by fire that is birth.

Only your mom can really tell you what it’s like, remembering the first time she met you in the open air, a face she knew so well already.

But it is pure, isn’t it? That same pure that you were surrounded in when you were three months old. That same sense of meaning. Have you felt that by now, Violette?

Like I said. This is as far as my experience can take you; you’ve let go hands and are on your own. I cannot give you the rain and wind and sunshine that you really need anymore. But maybe I can share some of mine with you, you can feel a little of what we feel.

Your blossom let go of the branch too soon. Your time there was beautiful. Everyone who saw that perfect, white blossom was moved in the pit of their being.

Dear Violette-

You’ll never know how much we miss you. Thank you and goodbye.


Rich said...

I just wanted to comment here, because it seemed like you may not have thought that your writing on this subject was a appropriate.

Part of being a father is coming to terms with how differently you process everything as a parent.

Once your first child is born your world is totally turned on its end, and you feel so many things more intensely than you may have before as you look through the eyes of a parent for the first time.

So I wanted to say that I understand why you felt compelled to write this.

You can't BE a badass dad and not be affected by something like this, whether it happens to someone close to you or not. If you can't feel even a glimpse of how devastating the loss of a child is to a parent then you have no place writing a blog about parenthood.

Parenthood, and badass-daddery is about enjoying and experiencing the highs and the lows. The fear that (God forbid) one day, this might happen to you is a very real part of the parental experience. It's just as important to explore this as it is to talk about toilet training and hormones.

You, my friend, wrote such an amazing article here I was moved to tears. I feel for you, and your friends, and for the little girl who, through your writing, has touched me.


Sol Smith said...

Thank you, Rich. I just talked to the mother a few hours ago. She was touched as well. She is printing out a copy of it to put in Violette's casket.

This has been one of the moving experiences of my life. I just don't know how to make sense of it. Writing is the only way, for me.

Thanks again.

candeelady said...

I don't understand the letters. At first I thought the child lived a long life but was handicapped and then passed away. Now I know, very sadly, that she died at only 3 months of age I am a pediatric nurse and my heart aches for this family, however I don't understand the letters?

Sol Smith said...


My friend asked me to write something for her daughter who had died. I knew that the only thing that would actually help was bringing her back to life. So I tried--with the only tool I had--to give her a life. It's a vain attempt, but a look at what she didn't have. A perspective of how unfair it all is.