This letter from Somerset Experience clinician, Dani Epstein, was read to the campers the first night of camp at the campfire...
It’s been 17 years since you died. It sounds like such a long time, but it feels like it was just yesterday. Right now, I’m at SomEx. It’s a camp for kids that have parents, brothers, or sisters who have died. When I learned about this camp, I knew I had to come. You know the craziest thing? My first day here was the anniversary of the day you died. I think that was you telling me that this is exactly where I need to be right now. I was 22 when you died, the girls here are so much younger than that. They are brave. They are strong. I am learning so much from them and the way that they are coping with their grief. It feels good to tell them about you. The more that I think about you and talk about you, I feel you live on in my heart.
It took me a long time to get to this point. For so long, I blamed myself. I wasn’t always the best little sister, I was 8 years younger than you. I got annoyed with you for trying to act like my mother. I was nasty sometimes, and we would fight; I would yell and scream at you. I was away at college during the 7 months you were sick with Cancer. I missed our last vacation as a family of five. On the last day I saw you, when you were at the hospital, my back was hurting, so I didn’t lean over to give you a hug and a kiss. I was angry and ashamed for so long after you died. Then I realized that if you were still here, that you wouldn’t want me to feel this way. I feel in my heart that you have forgiven me, this has allowed me to forgive myself.
Our family, our friends and the people who knew you say that you are our angel. You were a kind and compassionate person. You saw the best in people. You had struggles in life and you worked hard to overcome them. But the problem is, nobody is perfect. It bothers me that our family and friends remember you as perfect. You were a whole person with strengths and weaknesses. You suffered from anxiety and depression. You looked in the mirror an awful lot and you were very focussed on how you looked. You didn’t need to do that, you were beautiful. When they ignore your weaknesses, your mistakes, it feels like they are not seeing the whole picture of who you were. I will remember your beautiful parts and your parts that are not so pleasant. I remember all of you, I love all of you, even the icky parts.
I also remember our special times when we used to knock on the wall between our rooms before bedtime. You took good care of me, you protected me when I was a baby, up until the end. I had a doll named Jelly Belly, so you began calling me Danielly Belly. I miss you the most on our Birthdays. The day I was born, was one day after your 8th birthday. You always told me that I was the best birthday gift you ever got. You were my Birthday Buddy. On your birthday, I do something I know you would have loved. I go to get a manicure or a pedicure…and I always get purple…your favorite color. Do you know that now purple is one of my favorite colors also? On your birthday mom gets especially sad. I try to spend time with her, be there for her, hold her hand and give her hugs and kisses. I know how she misses your hugs and kisses.
Sometimes it’s really hard for me to be with our family without you there. We talk a lot about Football, and I mean A LOT! Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Pats fan, but it is ALL we talk about these days. Everyone else plays golf regularly. You and I didn’t play golf and we weren’t as big into football. Even though I’m with our family, I still feel lonely without you there.
Everyday I look for signs that you are with me. When I see a butterfly or a ladybug, I feel your presence. When I see a pretty flower, I think of you. A beautiful sunset, a cute baby, a yummy dessert, when I find a penny or a dime, I think of you.
As we both know, you were a lefty. The other day at lunch, I was sitting with two of my campers in Oak Lodge and they were both Lefties! Were you there with us? I think you were. When I have these thoughts, I smile. It took a long time for me to laugh and smile when thinking of you, but I truly believe that you want me to be happy and to live my best life.
And speaking of my best life, I am spending time with family and friends as much as possible. I spend lots of time with our nephews…you would have loved Jacob and Spencer. Jacob is named after you, and is so much like you. He is kind and sensitive just like you. And guess what, his birthday is 2 days after mine, he is our Birthday buddy too! Spencer is mischievous, just like me. We tell them all about their Auntie Jodi.
I love working with kids and teens and helping them work through their difficult feelings. I love yoga, riding my bike and playing with my pup Ernie. Even though you didn’t like dogs, I think you would love him, he looks like a teddy bear, and I know how you LOVED teddy bears.
I will continue to think about you, talk to you in my head and keep you in my heart.
I will love you always and Forever,