Dear Emma, 15 Years Old

I can’t believe you just turned 15 years old! You are growing up faster than you think. Your sophomore year will be incredible; you’ll make new friends and start piano lessons with Mrs. Baxter. Soon, you will start writing your own original music and sharing it with those closest to you. The future holds happy times. Right now should be a happy time for you.

But it isn’t.

I’m sorry Jay died. I remember how excruciating it was to be in that room while your family sobbed out their grief. The sorrow and hurt radiating from hospice are things I still think about from time to time. A dark blanket lain across your shoulders and you took comfort in it. Anyone would have.

You should know there was nothing you could have done. Sometimes, people die. Cancer is hard to beat, and your uncle tried his best to stick around. You will take care of Mom, right? She needs all the support she can get. Call your cousin every once in a while, too. He needs family more than ever.

Remember: this time of grieving cannot just be about other people. Find your own support system outside of your family. Shrug off that blanket of darkness when you are ready.

Dear Emma, 16 Years Old

I won’t lie. Your junior year of high school will have a lot of highs and a lot of lows. Let’s start with the good stuff.

You get your first guitar for the newly-implemented guitar class at good ole Vernon High School. Here’s where your songwriting really shines, and you should be proud of it. You learn how to fingerpick, different strumming patterns and how to write for different genres. That guitar becomes the love of your life and it shows. Stop doubting your talents. Disguising your insecurities behind “humility” is not cute. Get it together, Sis.

Songwriting will become a big part of your life. Right now, it’s one of my main creative outlets and stress relievers. Thank you for being passionate about it and continuing to develop your skills.

Now, let’s address the bad. This one is going to hurt. Sorry.

You experience a few heartbreaks this year: you lose more people. I wish Granddad and Granny could have stuck around to see you through high school. I know you wish you had been closer to Grandad. Also, I know you feel guilty for not calling Granny more while she was alive. Often, you think about how she offered to make you a hat when you went to see her in the hospital. You agonize over that last interaction, how you should have been more grateful, how you should have told her how much she meant to you.

Remember: you cannot change the past. Granny loved you more than anything on the planet. She would never want you to remember her with anything but love. What you can do now is honor her. Take care of her husband in her stead. Pick up the phone when Papa calls, even if you have the same conversation because his memory is failing. He loves you, too.

Dear Emma, 17 Years Old

Senior year. The darkness has truly started creeping in; that dark blanket you took comfort in has become increasingly heavy. I know you are hurting. That is OK. Sometimes you feel nothing at all. That is OK. You feel angry. That is OK.

But the way you treat yourself is. Not. OK.

Stop hurting yourself. Put down the lighter and metal; give your skin a break. Don’t internalize insults and accept them as truth. Remember others are grieving, too, and they may direct their anger at you. Talk to people. Tell them what you are going through. When Mom asks why all your songs sound like they allude to suicide, tell her why.

Remember: you are not alone. You are not unnatural. You’ve accomplished so much while being so incredibly sad, it is honestly amazing. You can make it. Your friends love you. Your family loves you. Now, you just need to learn to love yourself.

Dear Emma, 19 Years Old

Here we are: college. The campus is beautiful; the days are bright; the classes are interesting; the assignments are fulfilling. You’re here to become a journalist, to write stories about other people.

In the process of writing about others, do not forget about yourself. You have a tendency to neglect your health, both physical and mental. I know you are shy, but practice talking to people in your classes. Having friends really makes the pressures of college much lighter.

Somehow, you bury yourself in work and also leave work to the last minute. It is truly a talent. Please, for the love of God, get a planner and remember to fill it out. It is no use when it is blank.

Remember: You are still learning to love yourself. Self-love is a long and arduous journey. Hardships are always on the horizon, but now, you know how to address them in a healthy manner. Try not to be too hard on yourself. Life itself is a hardship, but you can make it less so.

Dear Emma, 20 Years Old

Oh, it’s your third year of college? I am about to start my fourth year, so we’re relatively close in age. Nevertheless, we are two extremely different people.

A lot has happened this year, both good and bad. That familiar dark blanket was thrown across your shoulders: another loss.

Aunt Kim was such a unique light. It is a travesty that it was snuffed out so soon. However, she would not want you to sink into a dark place. I know your family is in pain. I know you’re in pain because I’m still in pain. It is okay to feel this way and it is okay to cry. It is okay to hate cancer and its ruthlessness. Kim was your biggest cheerleader and she would want your life to continue.

Let me just say, I am so proud of you. You are doing your absolute best and keeping your chin up. Although you don’t perform anymore, you still love your music. You have a lot going on but are still fighting your way out from under that dark blanket. In addition, you are working at turning writing into a career, you’re eating habits are improving and you finally have a clear goal for your future. Emma, you are finding yourself and I am absolutely living to see it.

Remember: We are still learning. It is time to be kinder to ourselves and practice self-love. The grief and guilt we harbor do not define us. No matter the setbacks, we move forward. We have been using this dark blanket for quite a few years, now. Let’s throw that thing in the wash and start again.

With Love and Gratitude,

Emma, 21 Years Old

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