Mostly, I was sad to lose the messages I'd saved from my Dad.
After he took his life three long and short years ago February 26, I quickly stashed away the few emails from him that I'd casually left in my inbox. They didn't contain any significant information. Just a few funny forwards he'd sent my way. Things like that. I did have one HILARIOUS email he'd sent when he first starting taking a prescription sleeping aid to battle insomnia. Oh my, the goofy gibberish and misspellings in that email alone had us all rolling each time we'd joke with him about it. But it was gone along with the others, and that's all I'd had left of his written word.
While playing around with the settings on my account, I found a way to search for deleted emails, so I gave it a try. The funny ones never came back, but an email I'd long since forgotten and deleted popped up. After checking the date, I realized my Dad had sent it to me during my junior year of college when I was stressed out, taking 22 hours of upper level classes, and feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of graduating college earlier than I'd expected.
I clicked the email open with trembling fingers, and my breath caught in my throat.
Shaky tears started to find their way down my cheeks as I read the following words from my Dad:
Erin, my first-born daughter, my precious little girl. I want you to know and carry these thoughts with you the rest of your life. I will ALWAYS love you. There is nothing in this world that will ever change that. No matter how much you mess up, I will still love you. Erin, you will always have a special place in my heart and my life. Your old Dad will always be there for you. You are the prettiest girl I know and more importantly, you are a good person who deserves good things in her life.
Ever since you were a little girl, you have been special. Bright eyes, curious mind, an air of grace about you. You have always made me proud of you. Hey, you even have your old Dad's personality. Even if you never achieve another thing in your life, I will still think you are the best.
Remember on that train in Europe when I said in front of everyone there that I wish I could be like you? Well, I meant it. You have nothing to prove to anyone. This is your life and only you can decide what it will be.
This is the advice section of this email: Be true to Erin. Don't engage in any activity that makes you feel unhappy. Always be as kind as you can be to others. Live your life to your own standards because when it comes right down to it, You are the only person who has to live with you the rest of your life.
I am very happy that you and I have developed a closer relationship over the years. That is sort of rare between Dads and daughters. Just know that there are many people on your team who love you. Follow your heart and let people help you.
Now, go study and take care of business.
Friends, I can't tell you how much this email means to me now. My Dad and I were not extremely close, and his choices did a lot of damage to his life and mine...but I choose not to live in that. It took me a long time, but I made the choice many years ago while he was still alive to take the good and leave the bad. That's the only way to move forward and not live in bitterness.
That's why this email is priceless to me.
It was an unprompted note from my only Dad meant to encourage and uplift and compliment and love on his eldest daughter. Encouragement was not always my Dad's strong suit, so to have this written down and saved means so much to me.
He mentions our family trip to Europe with my step-mom, step-grandparents, and my sister. On one very long train ride from London to Paris, we all went around the circle talking about favorite things, places, etc. We shared very funny stories and very sad ones. At one point, we went around the circle saying who we'd most like to emulate and why. My Dad went last, and he surprised the group by quietly and thoughtfully saying he'd most like to be like me. I remember his eyes getting misty as he told us how he admired my self-confidence, my genuine happiness, and my ability to make my own choices with confidence. At the time, I was only 18, but I felt about a million feet tall. My Dad admired me, and I will never forget that he said it.
I won't go into the details of our strained relationship, but know this: by the end, we had reached an understanding between us. We had chosen extremely different life paths and beliefs, and he never could understand the source of my peace and happiness found in Christ. But we found a way to respect each other and achieve peace about the past, and for that I'll be forever grateful.
I know he loved me. And I loved him.
(My favorite picture of me and my dad and sis.
Hugging as we walked.)
Take the good.
Leave the bad.
That's why I'll treasure this email.
(**Thank you, sweet readers, for being so supportive and understanding these last few years as I've walked through and processed this strange journey of losing a loved one to suicide. I chose to share this very personal experience and email with you, because your encouragement has been so uplifting each time I open my heart to you.
If anyone out there needs help or knows someone who does, please don't hesitate to ask. I'm no expert, but I've got a listening ear. Here are other resources you might find helpful...)