So much has changed since you have been gone. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have wanted to call you to ask for your advice, or to hear you laugh at the shenanigans I have gotten myself into, maybe to get some sense knocked into me, but mostly to hear you say that you love me and that you support me. It is so hard not knowing. For the sake of making myself feel like life is slightly more normal than it is, I decided to write you this letter. Even though I know you aren’t here, I still feel the compulsion to tell you about all of the incredible, life changing things that have happened in the four months that you have been gone. How has it only been four months? I’m so scared of time passing, Dad; I want to stay as close to when you were alive for as long as I can—I’m not ready to forget things about you. I can’t tell you how much I wish this life update could be a conversation instead of a letter—but as you always taught me, I just have to do the best with what I have.
As you can imagine things got pretty crazy after you died. I don’t really want to go into detail about everything that happened with Matty because I know you know Matt better than anyone—so you know what Mom, Steph and I went through with him. From the months that Matt was still home, there is only one thing I want you to know, and that is how much love for you I saw in him. I can’t imagine it was easy for you to put everything you had into caring for Matt and to not get that “appreciated” feeling in return. But I saw how much he loved you and how much he missed you. I hope you know how much he misses you. Finding Matt a home was a difficult task, but we did it. His home is not exactly what you might want for him; but I can tell you that there are a few stand-out people there that truly care for him and that is what eases my mind. It isn’t perfect, but it is as good as a temporary situation can be and I am so thankful for that. I truly think that someday I will be able to help find somewhere even better; somewhere with a staff that challenges him as much as he challenges them, with people who see him as the beautiful human he is, who recognize his intelligence and are passionate about understanding him. While I don’t feel that his current home has any of these things to offer, I want you to know that just by being there he has grown. He is so much like you, in that even if he is surrounded by people who don’t understand him, he finds a way to grow. I really feel that if we can find somewhere that will actually help him, he will simply thrive. But I know you have always known that.
You would truly be so proud of him.
You would be so proud of everyone, Dad. Mom has continually amazed me, I wish you could see her now. During those months that Matt was home and you were not, she exuded an energy that I can’t describe. She was exactly what Steph, Matt and I needed. In a time when she could have had so much hate and depression she gave us so much strength. After Steph went back to Madison and Matt was in his group home, I stayed with her for about another month. In that month we landscaped the front yard, took out the carpet upstairs and downstairs and then put in all new floors—ALL BY OURSELVES. But, you know how Mom is, when she gets an idea in her head there are not many things that can stop her. She did even more work after I left—the backyard is like an oasis now. While I’m sure that if you had been there you would have been laughing at us the whole time because we really had no idea what we were doing, I also think you would have been really proud of the end product. And it was all spearheaded by Mom.
You would be so proud of her.
Steph is doing everything you could have ever wanted for her (besides the fact that she is moving to Chicago 😉 hahaha, just kidding). She is kicking this PhD in the ass. I have been seeing so much of you in her…. I see you in her insane intelligence and her persistence and most of all in her determination. She is going to do her thesis defense the day before we go to The Boundary Waters and she has already accepted a post-doc at Northwestern. Dad, I can’t tell you how amazed by her I am every day. I feel like in the past few months there has been a change in her. When you died she wrote about how you would always advocate for us to take every tragedy in stride—to do our best to keep going and to accept what has happened and to eventually let it go. She has truly done this. There is a calmness about her that I don’t think I have ever seen—as if she is finally seeing herself the way you saw her all along; the beautiful, insightful loving woman that she is. She is going to continue to grow and love herself and I know that
You would be so proud of her.
Then there is me. I kind of mentally checked out after you died. In the immediate weeks after you passed I couldn’t think straight. I got a small taste of what life was like for you; just a series of things that happened in between different meltdowns. It was so hard knowing that at any moment when Matt started screaming, I would be the one to put myself in front of him and not you. I know you would have never wanted me to do what you did, but I’m glad I got to see a part of your life that you never allowed me to see. I tried so hard to replicate what you did; I tried to be calm, but every time I looked at him all I saw was his confusion as to why it was me and not you. So I checked out—but looking back, I think I experienced a fundamental change during that time. When Matt got settled in his group home I started to feel a little bit more like myself—but it made your absence that much more obvious. When I got back to Minneapolis the fact that I was living a life that wasn’t mine anymore started to become evident. I wasn’t happy. Of course I wasn’t happy for the obvious reasons, but even beyond being depressed about you not being here, I was not happy about the life that I was living. And then I went to work at the autism camp I had been telling you about all year—Camp Hand in Hand. I wanted to call you every day I was at that camp because I saw so much of you and Matt there. I wanted to tell you how much you did right; how much you figured out all on your own and I mostly wanted to tell you how proud of you I was. I wanted you to meet every single incredible person I met—the other counselors, the staff, the campers—everyone. I wanted you to be able to experience the incredible feeling of being around people who actually get it or at least fucking try. I watched you attempt to relate to so many people about Matt and I know you never did; I never did either until this camp. I wish so much that you could have known about this place; there were times when I even imagined what it would have been like for you to bring Matt there—I think it would have made you so happy. I spent almost every night there by myself, usually situated in a good place to look at the stars. It reminded me of the summer nights we would spend on the porch talking, which made it easier to be alone. I felt like you were with me when I realized I needed to take my life in a different direction from what I had planned; something that seemed so far out of the question for so long. I felt you giving me the insight to look at my life as a 23 year old, I felt you telling me to follow my gut and I felt you telling me that everything was going to be OK, even if it meant I was going to go through life alone for a while. In a moment that should have scared me, I felt you giving me courage and acceptance. And after everything was said and done, I felt like you were with me as a passion for life crept back inside of me. I have reclaimed my life in a way that I was not expecting to and I hope in a way that would make you proud.
You always advocated for Mom, Matt, Steph and I to push ourselves—to constantly strive for the best version of ourselves. I think what I want you to understand the most from this letter is that your death has pushed every single one of us to do things that we didn’t think we could do before. You were the catalyst that made each of us grow in ways we didn’t know were possible. I don’t know how, but so many of the events that followed your death embodied everything you could have wanted for us when you were alive. Realizing this makes me feel closer to you, as if your loving energy is now a part of every decision I make– because if I hadn’t lost you, I wouldn’t have rediscovered this part of myself. I will always miss the solidarity that an actual conversation with you would give me, but I know now that you are in everything I do—which makes the pain of missing your physical presence a little easier to bear.
I will never be able to thank you enough for being the man that you were.
I love you so much.