46: Up in Flames

46: Up in Flames

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Up in Flames

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.

~Kenji Miyazawa

Five years after my mother’s death I realized that I was still hurt and angry. I hadn’t dealt with the fact that my parents got separated when I was three years old, I hadn’t dealt with the fact that my mother, my brother and I were abused physically and verbally for almost eight years by two of her boyfriends, and most of all, I hadn’t dealt with the fact that my mother had died so horribly right in front of my eyes when I was only twelve years old.

“Jenn, write a letter and burn it!” Anne kept telling me over and over again. Anne was one of my mother’s childhood friends. She stepped in after my mother’s death and has been like a mother to me. She’s the one I tell everything to, she’s the one I cry with, she’s the one I go to for advice, she’s the one who knows me best and she’s the one always encouraging me and letting me know how proud she is. She told me that burning a letter written to my past would help me get rid of some of my anger, sadness, confusion and stress. At first I really didn’t think it would make much of a difference. I felt alone in the world. I was always sick and all I wanted to do was sleep. I was at my lowest point and writing a letter seemed like a waste of time. But, I always listened to Anne, because she always turned out to be right!

I wrote the letter one day after work. “Dear past...” I started. I wrote about my parents’ separation and how that led us to having those two abusive boyfriends in our lives. Men who were alcoholics and treated us like dirt, men who I saw kicking, hitting and slapping my mother — men who didn’t even deserve to live. And then I continued by writing about my mother’s death and how much it hurt me, the fact that I had to see her die and how much I hated the fact that I had to live the rest of my life without a mom. I ended the letter by explaining how unhappy I was. It took all of my energy to write that letter, but four pages later, it was done.

I felt a bit relieved, but it really hadn’t made a big difference; I still felt horrible. That’s when Anne said: “Come on over and we’ll burn the letter.” So off to her place I went, crying my eyes out and feeling sick to my stomach. I was greeted with a hug and a chat and then we went outside and lit the letter on fire. As I watched it burn, I thought about all the horrible things I’d seen, heard and felt throughout my childhood. But most of all, I thought about my mother — the mother I lost, the mother I miss, the mother I love and the mother I’ll cherish forever. I wanted to get rid of the horrible weight I carried around for all those years, and by burning the letter that’s exactly what I was doing!

After the flame died out, I gave Anne the biggest hug ever, told her that I loved her and thanked her for being there. She gave me a box and told me to put a few pieces of the burned letter in it so that I could always look into it and say to myself: “It’s over.”

I randomly put some of the pieces in the box and when we went inside I discovered that the one word that wasn’t burned on the pieces I had chosen was the word “mom.” I felt like the happiest person in the world!

“I haven’t seen a real smile on your face in such a long time!” said Anne.

This was proof that my mother was still with me and that she was proud of what I had just accomplished. It also reassured me that I can depend on Anne to be my mother now and that she won’t ever let me down.

In order for me to be truly happy, I guess all I really needed was to get rid of that negative energy that had followed me around for so many years. And getting a sign from my mother helped me even more! Who knew that burning a letter would be such a life-changing experience? Thanks Mom and Anne, thanks for being a part of my life!

~Jennifer Gauthier

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