PS, It’s Been Twenty-Five Years

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As part of my annual reading challenges, I just finished “Postscript,” Cecilia Ahern’s followup to “PS, I Love You.” “PS, I Love You” was a story about a woman named Holly who starts receiving helpful letters from her recently-deceased husband. The letters send her on a journey where she rediscovers herself, finds a new path forward out of her grief, and so forth. It became a movie with Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler. The sequel picks up about seven years later, with Holly in a new relationship. When she retells the story of the letters from the first novel on a podcast, she gets pulled into helping a group of terminal patients who want to do the same thing, leaving messages behind after they die.

Ahern writes about grief with such insight that I was positive that she was writing from personal experience. As it turns out, she’s just a really gifted writer of fiction and a keen observer of humans being humans. In her own words, “when I wrote PS, I Love You, I was 21 and a lot of people asked if you hadn’t experienced grief. How can you write about it? But I do think that grief is made up of so many emotions that we do experience from the moment we’re born. We know what it’s like to feel loss, to feel alone, to feel uncertain, to lose a sense of ourselves and our identity. Grief is all of those things.”

Yesterday was twenty-five years to the day since the death of someone I loved with all my heart. I don’t talk about her as often now as I used to, but the people who have known me the longest know all about that part of my life because I wouldn’t shut up about it. Truth be told, I thought I had mentioned this countless times already on my blog, but I searched my own words tonight and I don’t see a single post talking about it.

For the three or four of you who don’t know the story, she died suddenly on February 21st, 1996. It was tragic and unfair and it really fucked me up for a long time. In the years that have passed since then, I’ve made an uneasy peace with some aspects of her passing. Twenty-five years is a long time to ponder things. I believe now that she didn’t love me as much as I loved her, but that’s not important. I know what she meant to me, and how that has shaped my life in the years since.

Which brings me back to Postscript, and the part of the novel that pushed me into writing about it here:

There is so much about me that Gerry wouldn’t recognize. I am older than Gerry ever was, I know things that he never knew, that he will never know. And it’s the little things that stop me in my tracks. He never lived to hear the word “hangry.” Every time I hear the word I think of him, he would have loved it when his belly was full and hated it when it was empty. The invention of things he would appreciate. New phones. New technologies. New political leaders, new wars. Cronuts. New Star Wars movies.

“Postscript,” Cecelia Ahern

…and this is a true thing. She would barely recognize the person I am now, despite my mostly-never-changing face. I’m more than twice as old now as I was when she died. Pre-1996 Steven was much more of a live-action Muppet than present-day Steven. I’m quieter now than I used to be, less boisterous. Her death was a catalyst for the path my life took afterward.

I’m certain that my friends have noticed in the years since that I take a truly insane number of photographs. I take pictures at family gatherings, parties, special events, and even just regular day-to-day things. (Seriously, let me show you my astonishing collection of photos of the avocado toast I’ve eaten over the years.) I’ve taken tens of thousands of photos in the last decade or so, and part of that is because of her. There are no photographs of her and me together. I have only one photograph of her, just one. It’s off to the right there. I realized years later that I needed more photographs of all the people in my life because you never know when you won’t have another chance to take their picture.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I had been able to save her. The question, “what if I’d been there that day,” is a slow-burning poison, because it’s not something that can be changed. And if it could be changed, it would unravel the fabric of the person I’ve become in the years since. Less than two years after her funeral, I made a decision to enroll at the University of Central Florida to finish my degree. In the years since then, I’ve owned a home. I’ve traveled extensively. I’ve had more than a few failed relationships. I’ve come to know my own heart more precisely than younger me did. I’m not certain that any of that would have been in my path if she was still alive. It’s a dark trade-off to consider, but it’s another true thing.

Whenever I write about her, I feel self-indulgent and mawkish, and it’s NEVER what I was trying to say. My words are never equal to the burden of my heart. I will probably delete this post after a day or so.

Here’s to you, Vanessa. You changed my world when you were alive, but you changed it even more when you died.

Would a younger you recognize the person you are today?



20 thoughts on “PS, It’s Been Twenty-Five Years

  1. I got that book for Christmas but I want to re-read PS I Love You first.

    That excerpt you shared from the book is how I feel about my step-mum. She was 29 when she died and I often think about how I’m older now than she ever got to be. On my 30th birthday I definitely thought “this is a milestone Shirley never reached”. It always seems unfair that she never got to experience her 30s.

    I’m so sorry about your loss.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Catalyst moments in our lives. The death of a loved one. The death of a relationship. A major illness or injury. Job changes, (which can be both the catalyst or result of a catalyst). We can respond to these in a variety of ways. To journal, blog, share with someone else our experience or memory. To record via photography, are all ways in which we cope. reflect. traverse the experience. Press on, I say, press on.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lorrie

    I wish I was able to meet Vanessa. She had such an impact on your life. Have you reached out to mutual friends to see if they have pictures of the two of you together?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lisa c

    When we lose someone very close to us, it affects us forever. It changes how we view things and changes how we open, or don’t open, our heart to others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know you understand this, because we’ve spoken about your brother many times. People who have experienced this type of loss are all part of a club of shared experience.


  5. This is beautiful. Sending love on this grief anniversary.

    (One of the strangest questions I get as a widow is– “if he showed up right now, suddenly magically alive, how would you feel?”. After dodging the question the first few times it was asked, I finally settled on : I’d be overjoyed but I don’t think we’d settle back into a relationship because he has missed the singularly most shaping experience of my life. His own death. I’m a different person now because he’s gone. So I get this, a little, at least. Also, I did the same thing with photographs after his death. There’s only a dozen pictures of us together. Now, no one escapes my camera phone, haha. 🙂 )

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This. Exactly this. I know we’ve spoken before about grief, and I’m altogether unsurprised at your leaning into the photos too. That picture from the one time I was in Long Beach is treasured. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “My words are never equal to the burden of my heart.”
    Oh Steven. This is beautiful, and thank you for sharing. It’s funny how some things can loom so large in parts of our lives, but then go almost unknown or unmentioned, as you found looking back through old posts. Thank you for sharing this one at least.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The quote from Postscript is one that I connect with as well. When I think of Amy, I realize she never saw the new century, never experienced 9/11, never dealt with the pandemic or the former president (thank goodness), never had the chance to hang out in NYC with me, never met the lovely man who became my husband.

    The anniversary of her death just passed; it hits me harder some years and this was one of them. I not only miss her mightily, I miss the history we could’ve shared. And I know that the number of people who even knew us together is dwindling.

    Big hugs to you, hon.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. That is such an interesting and profound question. It caught me off guard and I stared into the fireplace for a while contemplating it. I would like to say no but I think deep down , a younger me would perhaps glimpse something she recognised if she looked again. What came to mind though was question would my sister Eliza have recognised me today? Reading your blog resonated deeply. I touched on something similar in Coping in Space. The pain that surfaces when we think about what we have not shared in comparison to what we have lost- and how loss can sprinkle water on something that needs to grow within us. I’m so sorry for your loss but I smile at what you seem to have gained.

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