Dear Person Who Has Lost the Life You Imagined,
I want you to know I offer my genuine condolences for the loss of your old life—the life you imagined. To feel heartbreak and frustration and confusion and frenzy is okay. Stop letting others who don’t understand your loss tell you otherwise. Your feelings are valid. If I could send you away with only one detail from this letter, it would be that: Your feelings are valid.
Where are you at right now? I don’t know. You could be staring at a stack of divorce papers or perching at the gravestone of a child or waiting outside the doors of a courtroom or locking all your belongings in storage or sitting across the room from a therapist or removing the debris from your flooded home or moving across the country or clearing the items from the desk at the job you just lost or simply sitting, crying, crying, crying, crying.
Because the life you imagined is gone.
I don’t know where you’re at, physically. And even if I did, that would have no bearing on my understanding of where you are mentally, emotionally—because despite what many people say, it is okay to accept that we don’t understand how people are feeling, that we don’t understand their unique situations 100%, that at best we can only “relate,” but we can never truly “understand.”
So I am saying to you: I don’t understand. I may be able to relate.
Perhaps you’re smack in the middle of the loss of the life you imagined: maybe the cop has just showed up at your door to tell you a family member has died. This person you loved and valued and needed and envisioned a future with is suddenly gone. The life you imagined is still shattering, right now, and it feels like you can’t possibly hold the pain in. Perhaps that’s where you are—and I don’t understand. But I can relate. And as hard as it is to imagine right now, it’s not that life goes on without them—it’s that life adjusts itself to hug you in a different way. I don’t expect you to see or feel or believe any of that now. I don’t judge you if you think it will never be true for you because at the end of the day, I cannot judge what will be true for you. I can’t know. No one can know. But it is my hope for you that I am, at least, partially correct—and life adjusts itself to hug you in a different way.
Perhaps you’ve finally accepted the loss of the life you imagined and you’re looking around at the wreckage, wondering where to start: maybe you’re sitting in the hotel room you’ve been living in for the last four months staring at the letter you just received that says your divorce is final. The life you imagined shattered a while ago, but the insurmountable feelings of heartbreak and frustration and confusion and frenzy have abated. Most days, you don’t even cry anymore. Most days, you feel ready to move on, but a little overwhelmed at the prospect of doing so. Perhaps that’s where you are—and I don’t understand. But I can relate. And I’m telling you it’s okay to sit passively staring at the wreckage as long as you need to. It is not necessary to jump up before you’re ready and start cleaning up the mess, as if it to pretend it were never there. Just because you’re no longer in the middle of the loss doesn’t mean you’re at the end. Your timetable is unique, and if people make you feel guilty about that, then those people are under the impression they understand. Hopefully, one day, they’ll realize they can only relate. I can’t know. They can’t know. No one can know. But it is my hope for you that when you are ready, you will feel strong and powerful and more than able to clear the wreckage.
Perhaps you’ve put the life you imagined behind you, and you’re in the process of imagining a new life: maybe you’ve just left the therapist’s office, and he told you that the medicine is working, you’ve processed most of the pain you’ve been through, and at this point, a check-in every couple of months is all he recommends. The life you imagined shattered a long while ago, and you’re looking at the sun and realizing your new life started at some point when you weren’t even thinking about it—your imagination kicked back on and you didn’t even notice the flare of creativity. Perhaps that’s where you are—and I don’t understand. But I can relate. And right now, you’re not standing in the sun feeling the heartbreak and frustration and confusion and frenzy. Right now you’re feeling the warm leap of a possible future. I don’t judge the feelings you’re having right now at all. I can’t know. No one can know. All I can say is that I hope they are joyful feelings.
So, wherever you are—physically, mentally, or emotionally—I still want to offer my genuine condolences for the loss of your old life. There is probably no universe in which you forget about that old life entirely, and that’s okay. You’re okay. There is probably no universe in which you don’t sometimes, no matter how far apart the feelings are stretched, feel a tiny pang of longing for the old life you imagined, and that’s okay. You’re okay. And there is probably no universe in which the old life you imagined doesn’t influence the new life you’re imagining, and yes—that’s okay, too. You’re okay.
All that matters to me is that someday you get to a point where you aren’t afraid to imagine again. I won’t give you a time frame, I won’t tell you how to process, I won’t expect anything from you, specifically. But because I love you, all that matters to me is that someday you begin to imagine again.
Imagining is beautiful. And so are you.