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On May 1st of 2003, just weeks after being deployed to Iraq, Army Pfc. Jesse A. Givens, of Springfield, Missouri was killed when his tank fell into the Euphrates river. He was 34-years-old. Shortly after his death, the following farewell letter was delivered to his bereaved wife, Melissa, and his 6-year-old stepson, Dakota (“Toad”).

Melissa and Jesse’s unborn child, Carson (“Bean”), entered the world on the 29th of May, a few weeks after his father’s death.

Transcript follows.

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Transcript

Melissa,

Please only read if I don’t come home. Please put it away and hopefully you will never have to read it.

—————-

22-April-03

My family:

I never thought I would be writing a letter like this, I really don’t know where to start. I’ve been getting bad feelings though and well if you are reading this….

I am forever in debt to you, Dakota, and the Bean. I searched all my life for a dream and I found it in you. I would like to think that I made a positive difference in your lives. I will never be able to make up for the bad. I am so sorry. The happiest moments in my life all deal with my little family. I will always have with me the small moments we all shared. The moments when you quit taking life so serious and smiled. The sounds of a beautiful boy’s laughter or the simple nudge of a baby unborn. You will never know how complete you have made me. Each one of you. You saved me from loneliness and taught me how to think beyond myself. You taught me how to live and to love. You opened my eyes to a world I never dreamed existed. I am proud of you. Stay on the path you chose. Never lose sight of what is important again, you and our babies.

Dakota, you are more son than I could ever ask for. I can only hope I was half the dad. I used to be your “danny” but no matter what, it makes me proud that you chose me. You taught me how to care until it hurts, you taught me how to smile again. You taught me that life isn’t so serious and sometimes you have to play. You have a big, beautiful heart. Through life you need to keep it open and follow it. Never be afraid to be yourself. I will always be there in our park when you dream so we can still play. I hope someday you will have a son like mine. Make them smile and shine just like you. I love you Toad. I hope someday you will understand why I didn’t come home. Please be proud of me. Please don’t stop loving life. Take in every breath like it’s your first. I love you Toad. I will always be there with you. I’ll be in the sun, shadows, dreams, and joys of your life.

Bean, I never got to see you but I know in my heart you are beautiful. I know you will be strong and big-hearted just like your mom and brother. I will always have with me the feel of the soft nudges on your mom’s belly, and the joy I felt when we found out you were on your way. I dream of you every night, I will always. Don’t ever think that since I wasn’t around that I didn’t love you. You were conceived of love and I came to this terrible place for love. I love you as I do your mom and brother with all my heart and soul. Please understand that I had to be gone so that I could take care of my family. I love you Bean.

I have never been so blessed as the day I met Melissa Dawn Benfield. You are my angel, soulmate, wife, lover, and best friend. I am so sorry. I did not want to have to write this letter. There is so much more I need to say, so much more I need to share. A lifetime’s worth. I married you for a million lifetimes. That’s how long I will be with you. Please keep our babies safe. Please find it in your heart to forgive me for leaving you alone. Take care of yourself, believe in yourself, you are a strong, big hearted woman. Teach our babies to live life to its fullest, tell yourself to do the same. Don’t forget to take Toad to Disney World. I will be there with you. Melissa, I will always want you need you and love you in my heart, mind, and soul. Do me one favor, after you tuck Toad and Bean in, give them hugs and kisses from me. Go outside, look at the stars and count them. Don’t forget to smile.

Love Always
Your husband
Jess

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Stars.

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The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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It’s the illusion of permanence, I think. I mean, they’re always flaring up and caving in and going out. But from here, I can pretend…I can pretend that things last. I can pretend that lives last longer than moments. Gods come, and gods go. Mortals flicker and flash and fade. Worlds don’t last; and stars and galaxies are transient, fleeting things that twinkle like fireflies and vanish into cold and dust. But I can pretend…

— Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 7: Brief Lives

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On November 9th of 2004, Stieg Larsson — journalist and author of the posthumously published Millennium series of novels, the first of which was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — passed away after suffering a heart attack. He was 50-years-old. The next month, Stieg’s long-term partner, Eva Gabrielsson, found the following letter amongst his belongings, marked “To be opened only after my death,” and written prior to a trip to Africa in 1977 when he was just 22.

 

Eva read extracts of the letter at Stieg’s funeral, the day after its discovery.

 

 

 

Stockholm, February 9, 1977 

 

Eva, my love, 

 

It’s over. One way or another, everything comes to an end. It’s all over some day. That’s perhaps one of the most fascinating truths we know about the entire universe. The stars die, the galaxies die, the planets die. And people die too. I’ve never been a believer, but the day I became interested in astronomy, I think I put aside all that was left of my fear of death. I’d realized that in comparison to the universe, a human being, a single human being, me…is infinitely small. Well, I’m not writing this letter to deliver a profound religious or philosophical lecture. I’m writing it to tell you “farewell.” I was just talking to you on the phone. I can still hear the sound of your voice. I imagine you, before my eyes…a beautiful image, a lovely memory I will keep until the end. At this very moment, reading this letter, you know that I am dead.

 

There are things I want you to know. As I leave for Africa, I’m aware of what’s waiting for me. I even have the feeling that this trip could bring about my death, but it’s something that I have to experience, in spite of everything. I wasn’t born to sit in an armchair. I’m not like that. Correction: I wasn’t like that…I’m not going to Africa just as a journalist, I’m going above all on a political mission, and that’s why I think this trip might lead to my death. 

 

This is the first time I’ve written to you knowing exactly what to say: I love you, I love you, love you, love you. I want you to know that. I want you to know that I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone. I want you to know I mean that seriously. I want you to remember me but not grieve for me. If I truly mean something to you, and I know that I do, you will probably suffer when you learn I am dead. But if I really mean something to you, don’t suffer, I don’t want that. Don’t forget me, but go on living. Live your life. Pain will fade with time, even if that’s hard to imagine right now. Live in peace, my dearest love; live, love, hate, and keep fighting…

 

I had a lot of faults, I know, but some good qualities as well, I hope. But you, Eva, you inspired such love in me that I was never able to express it to you…

 

Straighten up, square your shoulders, hold your head high. Okay? Take care of yourself, Eva. Go have a cup of coffee. It’s over. Thank you for the beautiful times we had. You made me very happy. Adieu. 

 

I kiss you goodbye, Eva. 

 

From Stieg, with love.

 The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

 

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Dear Mr. Waters,

I am in receipt of your electronic mail dated the 14th of April and duly impressed by the Shakespearean complexity of your tragedy. Everyone in this tale has a rock-solid hamartia: hers, that she is so sick; yours, that you are so well. Were she better or you sicker, then the stars would not be so terribly crossed, but it is the nature of stars to cross, and never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he had Cassius note, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / but in ourselves.” Easy enough to say when you’re a Roman nobleman (or Shakespeare!), but there is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars.

While we’re on the topic of old Will’s insufficiencies, your writing about young Hazel reminds me of the Bard’s Fifty-fifth sonnet, which of course begins, “Not a marble, nor the gilded monuments  / of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme; / nut you shall shine more bright in these contents / Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.” (Off topic, but: What a slut time is. She screws everybody.) It’s a fine poem but a deceitful one: We do indeed remember Shakespeare’s powerful rhyme, but what do we remember about the person it commemorates? Nothing. We’re pretty sure he was male; everything else is guesswork. Shakespeare told us precious little of the man whom he entombed in his linguistic sarcophagus. (Witness also that when we talk about literature, we do so in the present tense. We we speak of the dead, we are not so kind.) You do not immortalize the lost by writing about them. Language buries, but does not resurrect. (Full disclosure: I am not the first to make this observation. cf, the MacLeish poem “Not Marble, Nor the gilded Monuments,” which contains the heroic line “I shall say you will die and none will remember you.”)

I digress, but here’s the rub: The dead are visable only in the terrible lidless eye of memory. The living, thank heaven, retain the avility to surprise and disappoint. Your Hazel is alive, Waters, and you mustn’t impose your will upon anoth’s decision, particularly a decision arrived at thoughtfully. She wishes to spare you pain, and you should let her. You may not find young Hazel’s logic persuasive, but I trod through this vale of tears longer than you, and from where I’m sitting, she’s not the lunatic.

Yours truly,

Peter Van Houten

❥ The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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