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The magic of grown up love letters

happy family on couch grown up love letter
Erin Brant/Stocksy

My husband and I started passing notes across the dining hall at the camp we worked at one summer in college. Innocent letters detailed our latest waterskiing outing at dusk, our frustrations with co-counselors or our plans for the weekend. Each note received felt like a tiny firework going off in my body. My adrenaline rushed, my cheeks flushed and a smile erupted on my face.

Our first Christmas date was a success. He bought me a Harry Potter scarf—Gryffindor, obviously. I made him a Yankees blanket. We laughed. We flirted. We held hands. At the end of our time he gave me a letter. The outside had a Christmas tree carefully drawn on the front with my name penned meticulously in cursive across the tree.

As time went on, our letters grew longer and the sentiments sweeter. I told him I loved his green eyes. He told me my butt looked good in yoga pants (because what’s more romantic than that?).

Sometimes, uncertainty crept into the letters. Sometimes the letters voiced frustration and hurt. Our love grew messier but deeper.

A few years later, he read me a letter from down on one knee. Kneeling on the dock of one of our favorite lakes, this boy I loved so much, looked at me with the green eyes that crinkled while he laughed and promised to love me and walk with me through whatever life might throw our way. I wept while he read, too elated to get control of my tears. And at the end, I responded with a resounding YES!

As the years passed, the letters grew less frequent. Sometimes we managed a note on Christmas or a birthday, maybe an index card left on the pillow after a bad fight. We found our writing energy redirected towards baby books and grad school applications. The pens in our hands filled out mortgage paperwork and doctor’s office forms. The love didn’t subside, but the expression of it evolved.

Eight years, four babies and six moves later, I sat alone with my newest baby in a NICU room. He was born a few weeks early and needed some help breathing. I had been discharged three days earlier and was sitting in his room for my daily visit. The recliner in his room offered little comfort and I struggled to get a full breath of air. I looked down and noticed the impression of my Birkenstock straps on my swollen feet.

I called  my husband  and said, “I just feel off.” I rubbed at my aching chest and tried to blink back my tears. “Maybe it’s just the effects of the anesthesia? I do not want to go to the ER. So much wasted money. So much wasted time. It’s probably because I’ve been hunched over to pump. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

I could hear my 18-month-old crying in the background as my husband told me to trust my gut. Ugh. My gut is garbage these days, paranoid and dramatic. I just had a baby for crying out loud.

When the NICU nurse walked back into the room, I burst into tears.

“I’m having chest pain, and I just don’t know what to do.”

She smiled and said, “We are not great at taking care of big people down here, so why don’t I call someone else to come look at you.”

I nodded, thankful someone else made the decision. A minute later, lights flashed on the NICU floor and a team of people flooded my room. I sat limply and thought just how wrong it was my son sat connected to tubes and wires and yet all eyes were on me. My blood pressure was through the roof, so they helped me to the wheelchair and rolled me away. I turned my head away from the isolette, too exhausted and scared to mouth goodbye to my boy.

I arrived in the ER and they started their usual slew of testing. IV. Blood draw. X-Ray. EKG. CT. All the fancy acronyms offered no relief. Doubt creeped in and my mind flashed to worse case scenarios. Preeclampsia? A heart attack? A blood clot?

After the flurry of activity, I sat alone in the ER bed hooked up to a breast pump. The whirring of the pump distracted me from my frantic thoughts.

A doctor arrived and abruptly jumped into his spiel.

“So your PE is probably the result of the–”

I interrupted him abruptly. “The PE? Is that a pulmonary embolism? A blood clot?” My thoughts raced to all sorts of horror stories I’d heard before. I looked down at my swollen feet and disheveled ensemble of maternity pants, an unhooked nursing bra from the last pumping session and a hospital gown unbuttoned at random to accommodate for wires and probes all over my chest. I pushed back my greasy hair and wiped my tears again.

A blood clot in my lower left lung. He assured me a few months of medicine and careful monitoring would resolve the issue.

They pumped me full of fluid, started my vitamins and blood thinners and moved me to the patient wing of the hospital. I needed pajamas, my phone charger, a book and maybe a snack or two. I called my husband to deliver my things, but with visiting hours long gone, my nurse once again stepped up and offered to retrieve it from him.

Inside I found my most comfortable nightgown, my book, my planner (because obviously this was the time for making plans), a little bag full of chocolate chip scones (devoured immediately) and a piece of paper with my four-year-old’s scribbled handwriting across the front.

On the back of this tattered paper, my husband wrote, “This was the only paper I could find which feels fitting for our life right now. Me and the kids prayed for you at dinner. You were made and formed by a God who loves you. We love you, and we can’t wait to be together again.”

I closed my tear-filled eyes and imagined my husband and three kids sitting around our white kitchen table praying for their mama. No doubt the toddler screamed through the whole prayer while the four-year-old did the potty dance and the seven-year-old peppered her dad with questions.

I can’t wait to add the baby to that chaos, I laughed to myself and pulled the letter close to me.

I’m sure as the years pass, our notes will resurface from time to time— a fortieth birthday here,  an important work accomplishment there. I’m finding, though, that the love that comes off the page and meets me in my very ordinary life is the most extraordinary love letter of all.