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When Death is a Shock, Natasha Richardson and Leaving a Letter to Those We Love

Posted Apr 09 2009 7:13pm

Actress Natasha Richardson died yesterday–from a head injury. She simply fell on the bunny slopes, skiing with her son in Canada. She was 45. As hard as it is to be a caregiver and watch someone you love die slowly, it’s even more heartbreaking to have your time cut short.

I have no doubt that this was a complete shock for her husband, Liam Neeson, their children, and all her family members. You aren’t supposed to die at 45. You aren’t supposed to die from just falling down. She should still be here. Natasha’s family has to be in complete shock. Shock is good. Shock insulates us when life makes no sense. I have no idea whether they had to make the decision to take her off life support or not. It sounds as if they did. That’s a tough, tough place to be, and it’s hard on families to know what’s best to do.

Even if you’re young and healthy, talk to your family.

Let them know ahead that if anything horrific happens, that you trust them to make the best decision they can. Let them know your wishes. (Check out The Five Wis hes, a living will that’s in every day language). Encourage your family ahead of time to agree. Give your spouse, partner, daughter, whoever it is–permission to take responsibility for deciding. As hard as it is, it’s even harder to get a consensus.

And, go ahead and write a letter to those you love. I have. They’re in the top drawer of my dresser.

In these letters, I tell my husband, my children, my dearest friends how much very much I love them. I encourage them that the best way to love me, to honor me is to live a great big wonderful life. Grieving is good. It’s necessary. It’s part of the journey–but then love me by living. Remember me by telling stories–and not just the nice ones. I’m flawed and complex. We all are. I remind them to be ordinary, be extraordinary, be yourself. Make mistakes. Forgive yourself. Laugh. Kiss hard and often. Take good risks. Make memories. Exert yourself for those you love. Believe in something. Change your mind. Try again. That’s life.

Natasha is at peace, and her husband, children, mother, sisters, and family has to grieve right now. They need to hold each other and remember her. Death can come as a shock. And for a time, all we can do is breathe and get through moment by moment.

~Carol D. O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother: A Daughter’s Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir

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