by Beth Saadati
When Dear Evan Hansen came to Greenville, I wasn't ready to see it. (I am, however, currently working through the novel.) In the Broadway musical, Evan undertakes a common challenge given by counselors to help survive the pain in this life. He writes letters. Which reminded me of something I've been meaning to do. Although you won't be reading this, it’s long past time I write one to you.
I wish I could have told you Happy 21st
Birthday this week. Twenty-one is a BIG DEAL. I wish I could have seen your
smile once again and taken you out to mark the occasion. Or, if you’d been
away, at least emailed . . . or texted . . . or talked by phone and heard your
voice—and, yes, I’m crying as I type this line.
I wish I knew whether I should think of
you, now, as my vivacious 14-year-old girl or as a beautiful young woman. For
all your years here, you loved that August 13th date. This
is the seventh birthday you’ve missed. Supposedly seven is the number of
perfection . . . but not in this case.
I wish you could have celebrated—with friends,
cousins, grandparents, your dad, me, and other extended family. I still see and
talk with some of your friends, Jenna—we text, catch up over a meal, or meet at
their universities—and that’s been good, so
good, except you should be there. At the core your close friends are the same, though they've grown and matured. With others, I’ve lost
touch. That might have happened anyway—after all, relationships sometimes change—but
I’d like to think, if you’d remained, those sweet connections wouldn’t have
I wish you could be here for your
sister and brother. You’ve missed several significant milestones, but even more,
all the little moments of greater worth. You would have shared wisdom to guide
them through the turbulent teen years. Told stories that let them laugh. And, no doubt, encouraged them on life's journey as their
I wish you could watch Christa, who
plays your clarinet, and Josh march with the high-school band. I wish
you could return with the other alumni to cheer them on. This year's competition
show is powerful. The title? To the Broken… Which,
also, is a letter—composed by someone who
finds his voice through writing. The premise and theme certainly ring true.
I wish you were starting your senior
year of college. You’re the one who should be taking classes—not me. I wish I
could figure out how to rightly re-imagine and plot your bittersweet story, wish I were teaching full-time instead of wrestling to word it in graduate
school. I was the teacher and editor: you were the
writer. Crafting a novel is such a lonely journey, and nothing about this
inherited assignment feels quite right.
I wish I knew your fictional characters well
enough to finish your book and fulfill your final letter's request. Really, you’re probably the only one who can do that. Nevertheless, I
long to. My inability to give you this last parting gift tears a piece of
my heart apart.
I’m afraid this sounds selfish, but I
wish you were here while I go through cancer treatments—wrapping your arms
around me, resting your chin on the top of my head and whispering, “It’s gonna be okay,
Mom”. . . the way you used to whenever a sky-high stack of students’ essays lay
piled on my desk to grade.
I wish I knew what you’re seeing. And
thinking. And experiencing. I wonder what you know, wonder if people who’ve
left this life since your death have shared stories from home. I have a ton of
unanswered questions. I’ve gone to sleep hundreds of times begging God to please
give me a dream of you. There have been none. I struggle to believe what I
cannot see, to hold onto such distant hope. It’s not the way I ever
wanted this to be.
I wish this letter were happy and
positive, light-hearted and fun. I think it would have been if you had truly turned 21.
There’s more I’d like to tell
you—enough to fill a book—but this will have to do.
Before I go, though, I’ll explain the
attached photo. My friend Sam, a teacher and writer who leads a ministry called Recklessly Alive, was visiting from Minnesota. If you’d heard him
speak before making your decision, I’m pretty sure you’d be around. I went with
Sam to a 1924 textile mill in order to photograph Mary, the
photographer, while she snapped some pictures for him. That’s when we saw
this—the month and day you were born stenciled onto the floor. The reminders are everywhere. I'll never forget.
To conclude, I continue to journey—life doesn’t exactly stop—and mostly live
in the moment, because there are plenty of memories to make and much reason
But I really, really wish you were here.
So many of us do.
I miss you. I love you. Someday I’ll
see you again.
We’ll have a lifetime of catching up to
take care of then.
All my love,
Beth (or maybe I’m still ‘Mom’ to you?)
[Photo Credit: Mary Denman]