Words of love
I am writing this letter to share my love, my values, my hopes and dreams, and my thoughts about life. I want you to know my feelings in the event that I cannot tell you myself. I’m also writing this because I love you so very much and want you to feel like I will always be with you.
On being a parent
My greatest gift in life has been to be your mom. The most important thing you have taught me is to love fully and freely, with abandon. I find so much joy in the simple things with you: playing in the yard on a sunny day, or a trip to the beach. If you have children, I hope that you are able to experience that same joy. Take the time to appreciate those simple but meaningful moments in your life. As children, I don’t know if you recognize these moments as profound, but I do, and I'm so grateful for them. I hope someday you’ll look back on days playing in the yard and recognize what a beautiful time we have had as a family.
A pep talk
You may encounter hardship in life. If I could be there, I would give you a huge pep talk. I would tell you that you absolutely can make it through, and that everyone encounters obstacles. We are not measured by our failures, but by our response to them, and in those times of struggle or darkness, you need to love yourself and be patient with yourself. All you need to do is put one foot in front of the other and just make it through the next few steps, and before you know it, circumstances will change and things will get better for you.
Follow your passions
My hopes for you are that you follow your passions and be whatever it is that you want to be. You have such a sense of self and style. You can put any outfit together—sometimes in such unexpected combinations that I wonder where you even got those outfits, but they’re just clothes from your closet. As you know, I don’t have that ability. So even though you’re only nine years old, it’s often you that helps me get dressed in the morning, telling me what does and doesn’t look good. I always joke that I can’t wait for you to get bigger so I can wear all your clothes.
In my life I am most grateful for the time I have spent with you both. If I died today, I would feel content that I did what I was meant to do on this earth, and that I was leaving the world two such amazing people. I don’t know if there is an afterlife, but if there is one, I will be watching over you. I’ll be taking part in everything that you are enjoying, and I’ll be there with you through any of your pain.
The anxiety trap
Anxiety runs in our family, so I want you to know that if you ever have a problem with anxiety or depression, or even if something just doesn’t feel right, you can always talk to someone. There are counselors who can help you, and there is no shame in taking medication if you need it. If the first person you talk to isn’t helpful, keep searching until you find the right one. Mental health is so important. Watch out for the anxiety trap of telling yourself you “have to” or “should” do something. Be logical, and think about why you’re really doing things. Listen to your mind as well as your body.
“Never kill the goose that lays the golden egg” was a lesson I learned from my mother. She meant that you should never spend your capital. Of course, she was talking about business. But I think it applies to life in general. Your capital is your foundation. Make good choices and protect your capital: your talents and resources, your health and well-being, and your friends and family. All of these are your foundation, your goose, which pays out in many ways.
Whatever career path you choose, I hope you will be happy and fulfilled. I hope you find something that challenges you to use your skills and knowledge to achieve, so that it will be rewarding. Success, to me, is not measured by a specific job or a specific income. To me, success is having what you need to live and being happy, healthy, and having meaningful relationships. That is what I wish for you. If you find meaningful relationships, if you are part of a supportive community, find joy in life, and are able to work hard and contribute to the world… to me, that is a huge success.
You don't have to be perfect
We all have challenges in life. In those times I hope you will look inside at who you really are. Always go back to what’s important to you and what feels right. You can trust your gut. Take your time, research your options, and don’t feel like you ever have to rush to make a decision. Sometimes your decision won’t make everyone happy. Just do the best you can. You don’t have to be perfect, and you won’t be perfect. That is the beauty of life, that we admit our mistakes and move forward.
My practical nature comes from my grandparents' austerity and their need to survive as immigrants. They worked hard to set up a life here, starting with a small apartment in Brooklyn that they shared with their cousins, then expanding to their own apartment, and then eventually to a tiny house. They were determined to succeed, and they were proud that their son was able to go to college. I admire their effort to establish a life for themselves and their family.
I think my greatest challenge in life was being insecure as a younger person. Maybe I cared too much about what other people thought, or maybe I was afraid they would laugh at me. When I look back, my fear of embarrassment kept me from doing a lot of things I would have liked to do. But you know, it’s silly to let something like that hold you back. It’s better to embarrass yourself and laugh. You have to be able to laugh at yourself—and surround yourself with people you can laugh with.
On finding balance
You are already a confident and competent individual, and my hope is that you will continue to make choices that lead to long-term happiness. Consider that on one extreme, a person can work so intensely for the long term that they miss out on the day-to-day importance of their relationships. On the other extreme, a person can chase momentary satisfaction, trading everything for that next fleeting pleasure, and feel relief at those moments, but emptiness the rest of the time. Long-term happiness is a balance of work and fun, and I want for you to create that balance.
On finding love
My wish is that each of you will find peaceful relationships. In a partnership like marriage, you have to support the other person and allow them to be who they are. I hope you will find someone who supports you and helps you feel safe and secure; someone who accepts you for who you are now, and who will support your future goals and dreams as well. It can take a while to find the right person, and that's okay. There may be people that you feel passionate about but who maybe aren’t the best life partners. Even if there are a few failures along the way, know that you will eventually find the right person.
As I prepare to leave you, I am constantly having pangs of sadness. There is so much uncertainty and none of us knows what will happen. As I think about leaving you, I feel a huge sense of emptiness and fear. At moments, it feels all-consuming. That is something all military members go through. But I don't think I would have that feeling if I didn't have the incredible amount of love I have for you. You are my entire life. I wouldn’t want anything else in the world other than what I have with you.
In hindsight, my faith gave me the roots from which I was able to grow strong because I knew where I came from, I knew what my belief system was, and I knew what my values were. That is what I'm trying to establish for you. Even though I know you don't like getting dragged to church, I desperately want to give you the same support system that has been so helpful and meaningful to me. It’s okay if someday you decide to choose a different belief system, but I at least want to have given you something from which you can grow and change.
Wants vs. needs
Never go into debt. Never. Rule number one: Unless it’s a medical emergency, there should be no debt. Take care of yourself enough that you’re comfortable and that all your needs are met. But realize that many of the things we think we need are actually things we want. It’s important to know the difference between the two. Be wise about what you spend your money on and make it meaningful. Save for things and plan; don’t spend money impulsively on stuff you don’t need. Stuff isn’t going to bring you happiness. It’s much more important to be around people than to fill your life with things.
On surviving loss
It was a terrible time to live through. My mom and I lived with an enormous amount of fear and pain, but we bore that burden together, and we relied greatly on family and friends to support us. If you ever have a time like that, I think it's important to rely on those around you. You should expect to be in pain, and expect to have fear, and expect to feel lost. Nothing can take away the pain, but the love and support that you feel from your extended community will carry you through that dark time.
Family medical history
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes people interpret reality abnormally. In Grandpa’s case he hears and sees things that aren’t there, and he can’t distinguish what’s imagined from what’s real. Schizophrenia can manifest by itself, but it can also be triggered by drugs. Schizophrenia runs in families, and because it’s already in your genes I can’t stress enough how important it is for you not to ever do drugs. That is really important.
A family heirloom
Our oldest family heirloom is your great-grandfather's snuffbox, one of the only things he brought with him from Russia. He made it himself, from birch bark, and it opened from two sides: the top, which he would offer to other people, and the bottom, where he kept the good stuff for himself.
The woman behind the camera
Ever since the two of you were born I have loved watching you grow, learn, and become yourselves. You can see by the thousands of pictures I’ve taken ever since you were babies how much I love you and how much delight I take watching you be you. You might look at all those pictures and think, "My God! Another picture of me!" Remember though that behind the camera was always me, loving you so much that I wanted to capture every moment to keep it forever. You have been the greatest joy in my life.