I’ve always been a planner. When I was 8, I had Christmas presents wrapped and cards made in July. When I was 14, I researched all of my college options. When I was 19 and graduated college, I knew that 26 was going to be the best year of my life. After all, at 26, you’re deep into a career, are likely married, own your own home, and are financially stable and wise enough to provide for kids.

When the plan sped up and I found and married my best friend at 22 years old, we decided to live in a city called Vadnais Heights while raising kids, then retire near Superior Shores (northern Minnesota). Four kids was the ideal, and I was hoping for boys – I heard they’re easier, and the world needed more men like my husband. Trust me.

Then…the love of my life was killed by a negligent driver.

And I paced, and paced, and paced around our house. What was I supposed to do now?

Seven and a half years later, here’s the letter I wish I could’ve given myself at that time:

Dear Michelle,

This is unbelievable, unfair, scary, maddening, and paralyzing. I’m so sorry you have to go through this. The platitudes people are repeating – “Everything happens for a reason” and “God doesn’t give you more than you handle” and others – are said because the situation is shocking, and they want to explain how something like this could’ve happened. You know the truth, and it’s simple: choices have consequences. The driver who hit him will never be the same, and both of you can save lives by talking about distracted driving (in the future). 

But right now, all that matters is his extinguished life. I know you’re wondering how to honor it, how to stop crying, how to get the bloody images to stop so you can fall asleep, how you’ll ever be okay, etc. These are important questions, and you’re feeling important emotions. The best thing you can do right now is let yourself grieve: fully feel the waves of sadness, anger, and desperation. Know that the path you are on is not linear, and the stages of grief will be different, then similar, then repetitive, then long, then boiling, and then sad. Don’t suppress it. At some point, when sadness is where you stay, you will be able to make decisions about how to move forward. It will happen, and you will feel ready.

You won’t ever be the same. You’re not supposed to be. There will be elements of life that you’ll always miss, and areas of growth that will give you more joy than you’ve known. While you’re upset and depressed that the people you thought would be here for you aren’t, please believe that new ones are on their way. Ones with survival experience, wisdom, patience, hope, and understanding. These friendships (and mentors) will help you, but you will not become dependent on them. In fact, within three years, you will find a strength and independence that makes you a light for others. Because of your pain, your light will save. 

There are things you can do while you’re waiting to experience the hope in this letter: 

  1. Get out of bed and go for a walk. Even if you only make it to the mailbox, that’s enough;
  2. When you have energy, write down everything. How you’re feeling today, the details of your wedding, your favorite conversations, what he believed, how he made you feel, the dreams you’ve lost, the people who are helping right now. Keep these in a journal, and share some of them with widow support groups, like widda.org and griefhealing.com;
  3. Surround yourself with people who want to talk about him and validate you. You’ll need to initiate – people want to help, but they’re not good at reaching out; 
  4. Read a few good books: I Wasn’t Ready to Say GoodbyeThe Death of a Husband, and Then & Now: Changed Perspectives of a Young Widow;
  5. Make some food that he enjoyed. If you have no appetite, offer it to others;
  6. Break stuff when you feel mad (and keep the pieces, as someday you’ll be in a place to create a mosaic out of them);
  7. Pray. Be honest that you question everything, be mad about this “new normal,” and be open to new people who’ll walk this journey with you. Say it all out loud. 
  8. Heat up water, and use it to make some calming tea. Curl up with a weighted blanket and you will feel the unyielding emotions confine. 
  9. Cry. Just like when you were a kid, you’ll feel a bit better when you’ve let it out. You need to do several times a day for the first couple years; it’s part of the process.
  10. Buy reputable, organic melatonin to help you sleep. In the long run, this will be far better and easier to wean off than the prescription medications. 

You will be able to do this stuff. It won’t happen everyday, and when it doesn’t, remember what your beloved said, “It’s okay not to be okay.” 

I should probably end this letter now. But my heart is yearning to tell you one more thing: In seven years, you will be joyful. JOYFUL. That doesn’t mean happy every day, but it means a life with acceptance and purpose. You will have a variety of coping mechanisms, which you teach others, and you will want to live — for yourself and your baby daughter. 




Michelle Jarvie

Michelle Jarvie is an author, educator, and mentor from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She began her career in mediation and business analysis after obtaining a master’s in public policy. Within two years of graduation, she married and lost her husband, James, to a motor vehicle crash. While searching for hope and coping mechanisms, Michelle quit her job, learned how to remodel a house, and sought trauma and grief counseling. Sixteen months after her loss, she started volunteering to read with two fifth grade girls who desperately needed a dependable, caring adult in their lives. As a result of this opportunity, Michelle decided to pursue a teaching license in English education. Since graduation in 2011, she has been teaching creative writing, writers’ workshop, and global literature courses at the high school level. She also regularly speaks to large and small groups of teenagers about grief, depression, and moving forward (not “moving on”). She loves to bring in Star Trek stories and quotes about grief to supplement her own. Michelle remarried in June 2013 and, with her new husband Sean, is expecting her first child in February 2015. They love to travel leisurely, stop for great food, and philosophize about changing the world.

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