A Letter to My Daughter on the Cusp of Her Fifth Birthday

Sarah Kilch Gaffney Girls

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You were born on a cold winter morning.

What winters we have seen since then, my love, you have been through so much.

Your daddy died nearly two years ago, and you still sometimes cry for him. I do too.

There is a framed poster above your bed, a collage of pictures from the time in your life when he was still alive, when he could still hold you, hug you, and tuck you into bed at night. Sometimes I can’t bear to look at it; others I just cannot avert my eyes.

I see so much of him in you. You have his ears and forehead, the way his hair always went in twelve different directions. You have his height and build, tall and slim, and his startling kindness. You have his easy laugh and different way of seeing the world.

After he died, your eyes went from his blue to more of a grey.

Realizing that you probably won’t have many of your own memories of him, if any, I try to keep him alive in your mind. I tell stories of your daddy at bedtime and talk about the pictures on your wall. I point out the things he would have found funny and the things that would have piqued his interest. I still cook his favorite meals and bake his favorite cookies. I note memories around the house and yard. I talk about his love for the woods and the mountains.

At four, you are more well-versed in talking about death than most adults. I have always tried to be honest with you, and have never wanted to hold you back from talking about any aspect of his illness or death. Someone’s momentary discomfort as you pipe up, “My daddy died,” is well worth you knowing unequivocally that it is always okay to talk about daddy, that we won’t ever forget him, and that we can talk about him whenever we need to.

We had you after they found the cancer in his brain, and though it was not as noticeable for the first couple years, he was sick the entire time that your lives converged.

You were just down the hall from the bedroom when he died, and you had the chance to kiss him goodbye. You helped me scatter his ashes on the beach and you helped me plant a little cherry tree in his memory.

There has been a lot of heartache and loss in your brief number of years. But you are so, so strong and you, like me, are so much more than your loss. His life and death are part of your story, are part of who you are and who you will become, and always will be, but your daddy’s death does not wholly define you.

You are brilliant and wild and a great tester of boundaries.

Our impromptu dance parties make me deliriously happy. You smile and laugh from a place deep within, and even as young as you are, you have great empathy for others. You love to draw and paint, to help me cook and bake in the kitchen, and your imagination is amazing: you’ll sit for hours in the living room chattering away and creating magical stories (usually involving at least one princess and one dragon). You crack me up when you jam out on your purple ukulele, you drive me crazy when your stubbornness matches my own, and you are, by far, the best thing to ever happen to your daddy and me.

One of the many things I loved about your daddy was how comfortable he was in his own skin. We were quite young when we fell in love, and without ever saying so much, he helped me be happy with the person I was, and the person I became. In his life, and also in his death, he taught me to not worry so much about what others think, and to simply seek out what makes me happy and gives me peace.

My love, I have such great hopes for you.

I want you to experience love from all sides, to make remarkable friends in your life, and to find something to do with your time that makes you happy and keeps you passionate. I hope that you will be kind, and that you will recognize that everyone faces difficult challenges. I hope you will put good into the world, and I hope that if you are able, you will help in your own way to ease the hurt of others. I hope that you will come to know and love yourself, and I hope that you will find so much peace and joy and strength in your life.

I also want you to know that it’s okay sometimes to be sad, angry, and confused. Life does that to us sometimes. It’s also okay to get hurt, to make the wrong decisions, and to fail. That’s how we learn.

I have no doubt that you will know a lot of wonder in your life, and also pain and struggle. At times, you will be overwhelmed by everything and everyone telling you what to do or like or be. I hope you will learn to tune inward, and let yourself take the lead.

It can be so easy to get caught up in it all and forget what is important. Sometimes we need gentle reminders, and sometimes an event that is cataclysmic. What matters are the little moments and the peace in your heart, my love. After that, everything else falls away.


About the Author

Sarah Kilch Gaffney

Sarah Kilch Gaffney is a brain injury advocate, writer, and homemade-caramel aficionado. She lives in Maine and you can find her work on her .

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