I fold each letter and tuck them into four separate envelopes—one for each kid. Then I lick them shut.
Still clenching the envelopes, I squat down on my hands and knees and crawl into the darkest corner of our closet where the safe is.
I punch in the password, yank open the door and gently place each letter inside.
I take a deep breath, slam the safe shut, and stand up to walk away.
My face is red. Beet red. There’s a large lump in my throat that feels like a sharp-edged golf ball. It’s hard to breathe, and I can barely see out of my bloodshot eyes.
I have just written the four hardest letters I’ll ever write; they are letters for my children to open when I die.
I’m not dying, though. In fact, I’m very much living. My doctors say I’m in good health. Aside from the fact I don’t sleep much around here and drink far too much coffee, I’m feeling great.
But I still wrote these letters.
Years ago, my husband and I did the same thing.
You see, our professions had us knocking on the door of danger many times. He was a police officer in a big city, and I was a television news reporter covering the crime beat. Because of our careers, the attorney who drafted our wills almost a decade ago recommended we write these letters to each other.
So we did.
On the front of the envelope we wrote “OPEN ONLY IF” to remind us to open the letters only if we didn’t return home from work.
We’ve since changed careers, and while the danger zones aren’t nearly as obvious in the social work and freelance writing fields we’re in now, we are well aware of the culture we live in and that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow.
Our original letters are still sealed shut in our safe. They’ve stayed there through four moves in three different states, multiple job changes and the addition of four beautiful children.
We could’ve pitched them a long time ago. In fact, neither my husband nor I can remember exactly what we wrote in them. And to be honest, we can barely remember what life was like as newlyweds, long before we had kids.
But the final letters we wrote each other years ago will stay there. They’ll stay tucked inside that safe alongside the four letters I just placed next to them.
Sure, I hope they remain sealed up for a long time. But if they don’t—if for some reason they need to be opened earlier than I hope—I’m glad they’re in there.
I’m at peace knowing these four letters will offer my children a final goodbye—one last “I love you”—even after I’m gone.