Throughout the years, my mother has written me many inspiring letters. I use the internet and write my children emails. Time may change the way we communicate – but it hasn’t replaced our need to connect with one another. I cherish the notes received from my son and daughter, and have managed to tuck a nice selection of them away. When I started to save them, I had no idea how much I would grow to value or learn from them.
What I do know is that these emails were just a few of the many keepsakes I’d lovingly packed away to help me remember the special moments of their childhoods. Cardboard boxes and plastic containers were filled with things I couldn’t bear to throw away. I had stored them in our closets, which were now filled to capacity. I finally came to the realization that it was time for me to sort through it all and make some room for the future.
Cleaning out a closet isn’t a big deal to most people. But, for anyone who is grieving, this type of task requires a certain state of mind. That’s because you can never be sure of what you’ll stumble across nor how those discoveries will affect you emotionally. This year marks the 11th anniversary of my son’s passing. Since his death, in 2002, I have only managed to go through our closets once, and that was five years ago. This year, the promise of spring inspired me to do some serious cleaning – so I took a deep breath and tackled the closets first.
It didn’t take long before I was up to my eyeballs in memories. What to keep? How much could I bear to part with? I took my time, and made my choices carefully. Old valentines from my daughter, grade school report cards and notes to Santa had me laughing and smiling. Pictures of trucks, old cartoons and architectural drawings of Ryan’s, made me smile – but also made me yearn for him, in a way I thought I had surpassed. I struggled at times, but managed to persevere as I continued to plow through the mountains of memories.
It was the emails – printed just a few months before his death – that managed to kick my legs out from underneath me. In the months that led up to his suicide, we had written to each other a lot. Ryan had been going through a difficult time and I had tried, as best as I could, to coach him through it. I could not read them all.
After reviewing about five or six of the emails, I had to close the folder and put them away. Eleven years of grieving had taught me that it is okay to stop when the pain becomes overwhelming. I believed that one day circumstances would change, and allow me to revisit them. At that point in time, I had no way of knowing that I would be returning to that folder in as little as two weeks.
It was a situation at work that started the ball rolling. I’ve been a contract worker for over 18 years. An opportunity arose and I applied for a permanent hire position. I had been passed over for direct hire positions in the past, due to the lack of a college degree. But this posting had specifically stated “or equivalent experience,” so I posted and decided to give it my best shot. However, I did not get the opportunity to interview.
I truly love the job I have now, so I tried my best not to let it upset me. On the day of the interviews, instead of focusing on my sadness, I tried to be supportive of my friends who were being interviewed; this got me through a difficult day. I was relieved when it was time to go home. During the drive, I enjoyed a small pity party and dropped a tear or two. It was then that I felt my son’s presence. This feeling snapped me into a state of complete awareness.
Sometimes, if Ryan wants to get my attention, he will give me the number “333”. Moments after I sensed his spirit, I passed a truck with a “333” license plate. I thanked my son for the sign, and let him know how much it meant to me.
As I continued toward home, I was conscious of the fact that my thoughts were being directed to that folder of emails I’d discovered a few weeks ago. By the time I reached our driveway, all I could think about was finding it, and looking through its contents.
When I arrived at home, I headed straight for Ryan’s closet. There, in a plastic container, was the folder of emails. I opened it and within minutes found what I had been ‘sent’ there to find. The email was dated June 5, 2002 – 23 days before his suicide. I had sent a note to him stating that I had just lost a job I had posted for because “they gave it to another girl who had a degree.”
He had responded: “Well, I’m sorry about the job, but like you tell me, everything happens for a reason. Who knows what’s waiting around the next corner…you never know what’s gonna happen with things like this…Good people are hard to find, and you’re one of them; someone will always have an empty desk looking for someone like you Mom. Love Ryan”
Tears flowed freely as I read an email that had been written to me eleven years ago, but also applied to my current situation perfectly. I could feel his words wrap around me like a big hug – and I drew comfort from them. Everything happens for a reason, even if it is just an opportunity to appreciate what we have. Out of the hundreds of emails he had sent to me, I had printed this one, saved it and rediscovered it – just when I needed it most.
Time and circumstances have changed how Ryan and I communicate, but not our need to connect. No pen, paper or computers were required to receive his loving message. All I had to do was be aware, and believe in what I was experiencing. I once read that every time we think of the deceased, the energy of our thought is like sending them an email. I like that. So take your grief out of the closet – and send that email – you might just get something back!