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.

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.

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. If you look closely you'll see that you can open it from two sides: the top, which he would offer to other people, and the bottom, where he kept the good stuff for himself.

On success

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.

Family values

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.

Financial advice

“Never kill the goose that lays the golden egg” was a lesson I learned from my father, and he learned it from his mother. What she meant was to never spend your capital—and to use your capital to increase your capital. She was talking about business, but I think it also applies to life in general. Your capital is your foundation that both roots you and allows you to grow. 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.

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 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.

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.

On religion

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.

On leave-taking

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.

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.