Ponyo: A Letter to My Daughter About Loss

Dear Ezra,

The way you learn is special. You will never show us you know how to do something until you’ve got it down. When we found out you could walk, you could already do it perfectly. You held out on us because you didn’t want us to experience any failure to stand. You want so badly for us to see you as you see yourself: as someone who knew how to walk, who knew how to draw and paint, who knew how to do all things that kids know how to do by instinct. But know, our sweet girl, there is no amount of grieving that makes loss feel safe. There is no amount of practice that makes it tolerable or easier for you to present your feelings to us.

The last year was a year of loss for so many people. We know you felt it. We know you watched as your beloved Opa faded in the hospital. What was amazing is that you showed me how to grieve in your infinite compassion. You were ready. You showed up and showed love. Like walking, you didn’t launch into an immediate grief, but you slowly let feelings surface, and practiced them throughout the year, knowing what was coming, and living it through many times before that moment came.

Be brave. Be compassionate. Be creative. Those are the three things we ask of you. And you showed us all of these things in your grief.

You made your Opa a bracelet and he wore it until his last day, as he promised you he would. That was a link that forever tied you to his spirit, that we must believe, carried your endless compassion with him until the day we lost him.

Flowers for your beloved Opa.

It was your birthday and we prayed for one more day. One more day is what we got. The following morning, your Mom got the call. And we held you so tight, and said, it will be OK. It is OK. Opa is OK. He’s here with us in spirit.

We told you it would be OK. You showed us it would be OK. Already an expert in your grief. Because we had lost my Grandfather, one of my favorite people in the world, a few short years earlier. And we did a lot of falling down then so we could stand up tall and upright now. And through both events, I learned as much from you, as you have from me.

You had practice with me too. I’m not sure if you know how much practice you had with me. But your Mom does, and somehow that must be internalized in your strength. I’ve told my coma story here before and won’t dwell on it, but it’s another time where you taught me how to hold on and live, to grieve a past life that had to end once you were born. A rebirth from addiction to recovery.

I knew how to live again because I had to model something for you. I had to believe in myself, for the first time in a very long time, because you already believed in me. The second you were born and blew bubbles at me and smiled, I knew I had to be here, and had to survive for you. But we all practiced grief and all practiced absolute and resilient love.

We got you a fish tank for Christmas. An early gift. We tried two Tetras in it but neither survived. We’ll try something and then try something else. But I saw, once again, your absolute perseverance. Maybe Seashell and Briar Rose (both male fish, love your names) weren’t long for the world. But it was a more direct way to practice our grief in a controlled and direct way.

You needed to make sure everyone else got their flowers too.

You show us your emotional intelligence all the time. My favorite tradition you’ve started is the Christmas tradition of leaving notes for all of our relatives on the tree. Relatives departed and present. It’s such a sweet, thoughtful, and emotionally intelligent idea, that shows more than self interest in the holiday, realizing what it is all about, at its best.

Like Sōsuke, you show your emotional intelligence and ability to process complex emotions outright. Sōsuke keeping Ponyo alive in the little bucket was an extreme Ezra tendency. That will of a child’s spirit yet unbroken by bitter world weary cynicism, that keeps you going through hard moments.

Movies can help us. Innocent movies like Ponyo can be windows into the spirit of the human condition. You can be Sōsuke. You can imagine and dream and will love into existence just because you believe in it that much. You can love with all your heart and have the innocent childlike wonder of Ponyo. You can feel and understand what you feel and process it through the arts, through your drawings, through the movies.

This is now a movie that connects us. Another movie that establishes a long term bond over the movies. I wrote about Inside Out (2015) and explained how you taught me to feel again. But the last few years you’ve also taught me how to grieve. How to experience the hard emotions with the heart and endless compassion of a child. Thank you. Thank you so much for being Ezra.

Remember, the only thing to really understand about emotions is that they will eventually pass. That everything passes. That we will all pass. And mourning a loss never gets any easier. You just get used to it. You can’t always walk without falling. You just get back up because that’s all there is left to do.

Love,

Dad

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