It’s Alicia. I am not sure if you know, but today is September 19, and today marks 10 years since you left us, and your pain, for another plane of existence. So much has happened, you wouldn’t even believe it. I honestly do not know where to start and I am sure I won’t cover everything, but I wanted to fill you in on a few things that would make you smile, laugh, cry, or look at me incredulously.
To start, let me just address the elephant that lives in all the rooms of my heart: it f***ing sucks that you became addicted to heroin and died as a direct result. Do you know how long I was stuck on the second stage of grief? Well, I will let you know when I pass it. I am mad you remain frozen at 19, that you are not here with your family, that we haven’t seen you in a decade. And that is putting it lightly because this letter isn’t about that, it’s about what you’ve missed.
10 years later, and I can still feel the life-altering shock of the moment my father called me and told me you died. That’s the first thing you missed – when I was delivered the worst news of my young adult life.
Losing you altered so much. I had only taken one step into the funeral home, that was packed to capacity by the way, with a line that snaked down the street, when I heard your dad scream my name in such pain. Suddenly, our last conversation became “our last words.” Suddenly, I didn’t have a cousin who was my age. Suddenly, my mom had to whisper to the people who ran the funeral home that the lipstick they put on you was “just not you,” and had to be changed before your mother saw. Suddenly, I became a haunting parallel of the life you could have led. Suddenly, and for the first time in my life, I was nervous to see your parents and siblings, as I was convinced they would never want to be in the same room as me again.
To recap: Cell phones are basically handheld computers now, and they do not flip open. MySpace was more or less replaced by Facebook, which is used a lot by parents, but your account is still there, I check it from time to time. RENT took its final bow in 2011 but came back and celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Remember when we saw it? A television show you would have loved lasted six seasons; it was called Glee. Goo Goo Dolls are still releasing music. Your sister has your Goo Goo Dolls sweatshirt now.
My dad has since retired from the fire department, we still have Baci, but we got another dog a few years after you died, his name is Champ. My parents still live in the same house, but my brother has his own place and I moved out in 2009. My sister says, “Hi.” Last year your family finally put back up a Christmas tree. Which probably sounds crazy to you, since all you remember is how holiday-crazed your family was; but once you left, the tree never went back up.
Where we used to drink coffee and eat those french fries moved to a smaller space, but it’s still there. The first time I drove there and didn’t see it in its old location I started to cry because I thought it was totally gone, but it wasn’t, they just moved. Nearly everyone has EZ-Pass now, but I still smile when I see the cars waiting to pay with cash. I think about the time you hung out of the backseat window to take a concert poster that was taped to one of the toll booths.
Since you left, I celebrated my 21st and 30th birthdays, I graduated college, grad school, and got married to someone you never had the chance to meet. By then you were gone six years and your mother couldn’t go to the bridal shower, because she was sad. You would have been in the wedding party, but I think you know that because we used to talk about it when we were younger. You were in the memory slideshow. When your face appeared on the screen, I instinctively looked over at your dad, who mouthed the words “thank you” to me. I still don’t know why he thanked me. During the father-daughter dance your dad had to walk out of the room.
We celebrated your 21st birthday without you, how terrible is that? We all poured shots and toasted you. The first Christmas after you died, my father and I went to church and I wanted to light a candle for you. They were those lightbulb candles that you press a button and it flickers on. My dad lit one, then it was my turn. The first candle wouldn’t light so I tried another. That one didn’t light either. I found humor in this and looked up to the ceiling and said, “Very funny, Jess, let me light a candle for you.” The third candle lit.
I landed my first “adult” job in 2008 and now I am the Director of Communications at a private college, which I know you are really proud of because you always told me I would be able to make a living as writer, and I am, but more on that later.
In May of 2011, Osama bin Laden was shot and killed.
In 2012 a huge storm hit the Jersey Shore and destroyed our beach. It was the second-costliest hurricane in United States history, displacing many from their homes. My family home was fine. A lot has been rebuilt, but not all of it. Almost like our family, Jess. The roller coaster we loved sunk into the ocean and lived in the Atlantic for months before it was removed by cranes. Grandpa’s yacht club was destroyed, its doors just opened again this summer.
While talking about Grandpa…he passed away in 2011. Your grandmother passed away five months after you, we think she died of a broken heart.
I own a home now, one you probably remember, since it is the home where my mother grew up. I still subscribe to magazines and do not throw them away immediately. I stack them just like I used to when you were alive. I used to save them for you, because you liked to flip through them when we were hanging out.
Once you died, I began reading everything I could on drug addiction and realized there wasn’t a large voice for the families directly affected by addiction. So, about six years after you died, I began writing on the heroin epidemic, yes they call it an “epidemic” now, from the point of view of the families. My writing has been read by millions.
This is how I channel my grief, and I like to think you are proud of how I use my heartache to reach out and help others. I am even going to be on television next month. Losing you gave me the type of purpose in life one only develops after a major loss – there is an empowerment uncorked in grief, but I would rather not be writing about heroin, I would rather you be here.
Your sister, mother, and I meet for drinks and dinner like once a month now. We just started doing this a few months ago. Even though I know they love me, I sometimes feel out of place still because I shouldn’t be meeting them for drinks, YOU should, or WE should.
When you were here, your older sister felt so much, well, older than us. We were kids in her eyes. Now, I have this whole relationship with her you know nothing about. This isn’t how it should be at all. So much has changed with your parents and siblings, but I will let someone else talk about all that now. Spoiler alert: your sister turned forty this year and no one would have enjoyed the hilarity found in that more than you.
Jess, here’s your sister.
Jess, it’s me, Catherine. You have missed out on so many holidays. They were always so important and special for our family, a time to come together and celebrate. Halloween was always one of your favorites. Christmas was always such a big deal in our family. This year will be the 10th Christmas that you will miss.
You have also missed birthdays, not only yours, but all of ours. You will always be 19-years-old, but we all keep getting older. You missed out on your 21st birthday. I know that would have been a big celebration. You missed out on your entire twenties, a time when your life would have started to fall into place. Just recently, you missed out on my 40th birthday. I know you would have had a field day with that one.
You have missed out on having a big sister to come and talk to when you needed some advice. You missed out on talking to me about family, boys, school, work, and anything else that life brought your way. Sisters have a special bond, where they can talk to each other about life. I would have been there to listen, and I know you would have too. Even though I was 11 years older than you, and our common interests were few sometimes because of the age difference, I know that would have changed as you got older. You missed out on the opportunity to build an adult relationship with your older sister.
If there is one thing that bothers me the most, it’s that you missed out on my kids, your nieces. You missed out on my being pregnant not once, but twice. You probably would have been the first person I called to share the exciting news, and then I would have told you not to tell anyone yet. You have missed being an aunt. You have missed preschool and kindergarten graduations, dance recitals, and their birthdays, all eight years of them for my oldest, and five years for my youngest. It would have meant the world to them to have you there.
Jess, you have missed out on the ENTIRE lives of my little girls. You will never know them, but they know of you. I promise you I will always make sure they know about Aunt Jessica.
Jess, it’s Alicia again.
We’re going to stop here. I hope we didn’t leave too much out, but a part of me truly believes you knew all of this already. A part of me believes you check in on all of us every day.
Everyone still loves you very much.
We wish you were here.
Alicia and Catherine