(24-hours before Suzanne dies)
Dear future Jeff,
I want you to know a few things. After Suzanne dies, you will feel like there is little potential of anything ever making your life any better. Did you know that you will be scared, hurting, very much alone (even surrounded by friends and family), completely lost and heartbroken? Please know that although you could potentially just curl up in a ball and die from that heartbreak, you won’t.
Potential is an interesting word. It means, “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.” When Suzanne dies, you will feel like there really is no future to develop into.
When that time comes, all you will want to ask yourself is, “What’s the point?” I mean, there won’t be a single thing that truly appeals to you as having any real potential for your future.
Work? You will no longer be interested. Dating? Nope, you will start too soon and be heartbroken again (but luckily, you will meet someone new who will accept you as and where you are). Living? Well… if I am honest with you, the only thing that will keep you waking up every morning and wanting to go on living is your daughters.
Thing is, Jeff, when we grieve hard, our tendency is to spend too much time in our heads. We grieve for the life we had. We grieve for the life we no longer have. And we grieve for the life we had envisioned for the future. You will miss every aspect of that life. You will feel empty without it, and you will be lost.
Because we grieve the primary and secondary losses, we lose not only our vision of a future with our person, but also the vision of our own future without that person. It doesn’t make much sense, I know, but it’s true. Too often, we close ourselves off to any real possibility of achieving our own potential when we are grieving. We tend to lose our core Self. We lose our focus and our center. We forget who and what we are.
When this happens, anyone can be like you will be for so many months after Suzanne dies: you will be floundering, lost, feckless, aimless, self-sabotaging, bleeding all over people who did not cause your wounds, and you will feel like you can’t go on.
But you will keep going. And when you reach the 21-month “Deathaversary”, you will write about how you are a completely different person than you were in those first few days, weeks, months, year and longer after Suzi dies.
Your life will have changed in so many ways that you will no longer recognize yourself. I won’t lie—it will take some SERIOUSLY hard work to completely and radically change your Self. Especially after how deep your grief was, and will be up, as recently as just a few months previous.
Some of the changes will be physical and “superficial.” In 21-months you will have lost 15-lbs, you will grow a beard (you’ll start it for the “November” movement, like it, and keep it). You will travel a lot. You will buy and move into your own home—the first without Suzanne. You will meet someone new.
You will also get laid off from your job—the one you were planning to leave anyway—and you will start your own coaching business designed to help others like you find new purpose in their lives and find ways to work at something that truly makes them passionate. It will be some of the most rewarding and difficult work you will ever do.
But none of the changes you will go through will be bigger than the internal, mental and emotional transformation you will undergo. You will truly begin to self-actualize (defined as “the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities; a desire for self-fulfillment, namely, the tendency to actualize one’s own potential”); and you will rediscover your true Self.
You will do all this because becoming self-actualized means you will be fulfilled, doing everything you can to achieve your fullest potential. And you will do all this because you want to be the person that Suzanne would have wanted you to become anyway.
So, in that vein, let me mention what I believe is another meaning for “potential.” That meaning is to release the “latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success.” And this is where you will be on the day of Suzanne’s 21-month Deathaversary.
You will be successful, because this letter is meant to help you, Jeff. I want you to understand and know that no matter how desperate things may seem (no matter where you are in your grief journey), there is hope. You can be and become the best version of your self by believing in the potential you have inside to heal and to grow.
While no one is perfect—and you know I believe we are all perfectly imperfect—you will have worked very hard to change. You will have accepted the grief. You will have also accepted that you were not always the best husband or father, and you will have stopped most of the behaviors you exhibited when Suzanne was alive and when the girls were children.
As part of your work, you will forgive and accept your true Self and that will completely change your emotional and spiritual outlook. You are going to be far more present with others (and with your own self) than you ever have been before.
And you will create a true vision—not a dream, but a vision—of the future Self you see inside; and you will want to bring him out to the world. You will like that person very much. That person has the amazing gifts of love and kindness to give to so many other widows and widowers, and to the world.
So now, I will repeat what I just said a few paragraphs ago: there is hope, Jeff. No matter who or what you think you are (and where you may think you are in your grief journey), there is still a chance for you to be and do better with your true self. But it’s not going to be easy. It will nearly “break” you. And you will have to let it. You will shatter the old you and become someone and something better: the best version of you.
Be open, be accepting, and be able to let go of the things you think you wanted. Truly take the time to discover your own purpose, passion and internal power… Those will be the keys to change. The catalyst will be knowing and realizing that truly “you are enough.”
By doing the hard work when it might feel easier to avoid it, you could save yourself a great deal of hurt. And you will set yourself up for a much better life if you choose one.
Dearest, kind, loving, Jeff. You have all my love and hopes for the future you…