Dear Sean


My mother died last Saturday…

Write back to me, please, I really hope you read this and get back to me…

I just don’t know what I’m going to do now.



For a moment, let’s pretend.

Okay, ready?


You’re a twelve-year-old boy. It’s the day after your father’s funeral. Family swarms your home. They cook for you. They clean for you. They bombard you.

That night, instead of sulking—which you REALLY want to do—you sit around a campfire with uncles and cousins. The fire blazes, and you wish you weren’t there. You wish you could be somewhere else.

That’s when you notice a cow is standing behind you, near the fence.

Someone stabs the fire with a stick, sparks shoot into the night.

You are as alone as a kid can be. Earlier that day, at your father’s visitation, you shook a lot of hands with very nice people. But these folks don’t understand you.

They can’t understand. They have normal lives. And after your father’s service, their normal lives resume. They take off neckties and dress shoes, but your life is just beginning.

This is what you’re thinking.

But around this campfire, nobody gives you time to be alone with your thoughts. Instead, your uncle tells a story about driving to Georgia, and how the bumps on the roads almost rattled his RV into nuts and bolts.

Another uncle tells the story about when he was three, he tried to hammer a nail into his brother’s head like one of the Three Stooges.

What’s wrong with them? How can anyone make jokes at a time like this?

While they talk, you are staring at the cow near the fence, and you feel like she’s the only one who understands you. Maybe you’re losing your mind, but you seem to understand her, too. It’s in her eyes.

She’s saying something to you with those eyes.

She’s saying: “I know, I know.”

This phrase. It’s an expression your father told you never to use. It’s rude. It sounds arrogant. If you answer a statement with “Yeah, I know,” it’s just bad manners.

Besides, nobody likes a know-it-all. Know-it-alls make life hard for those of us who actually do.

But this cow, she understands you. So you approach the fence. You hold out your hand.

She does not run from you—which is unusual, cows usually run from you. You touch her face. She lets you. You rub the patch of stubble on her forehead and feel the silk of her coat.

By now, the uncles have grown silent. They’re watching you.

And this cow. This moment. It feels so good to be known. All you’ve ever wanted is to be known.

You begin to cry. You press your face against the cow’s neck. You want to be left alone. You want to be alone for a hundred years. But you aren’t.

Soon, your uncles and cousins are surrounding you. They are mass-hugging you. You have become part of their giant human bundle.

“Ssshhh,” one of your uncles says. And, even though it is bizarre, and out-of-place, he begins singing:

“They built the ship Titanic,” he sings, “to sail the ocean blue, they thought they had a ship, that the water would never go through…”

Your father taught you this song. You sang it with him on camping trips, and at Little League practice.

More voices join.

This is utterly ridiculous, this spontaneous singing. After all, life is no musical. If it were, you would sing a much cooler song. Also, Shirley Jones would be your leading lady.

But life is not a musical. It is hard, and bitter, and merciless, and vicious, and… Why can’t these people understand this? Why can’t they just go away? Why!?

After a few choruses, you find yourself singing along like an idiot. The melody starts in your belly, and works its way upward to your mouth.

At first you feel stupid, but singing feels so nice.

And it is within this thin slice of space and time that you recall something your father said long ago.

You were doing yard work. Your father was on the porch. He told you to pick up a twig and bring it to him.

When you did, he told you to “Break it in two.”

“Why?” you asked.

“Just try it.”

So you snapped it in half.

“Now,” he said. “Go find me an armful of sticks.”

“But, I don’t get it,” you said.

“Just do as I say.”

When you returned with a bundle of twigs, your father tied them together with a shoelace. Then he told you to break the bundle.

You tried, but you couldn’t break a single stick.

Your father smiled.

“See that?” he said. “That bundle is family and friends.”

You are not alone, sweetheart. Not ever.


  1. Bill Duke - January 16, 2019 6:50 am

    Dear Sean it was not my father that died but my wife and I feel the same as the little boy in the story Although there have been many friends and family around me I certainly still feel alone. I am a grown man and a veteran a paratrooper and accomplished but many times I feel so utterly alone. Thanks for listening!

    • Karen - January 16, 2019 2:29 pm

      Bill, you are not alone, especially now. I know how you feel and lots of others do, too. I am praying for you, and so are others. God is with you, always, even when you don’t feel Him.

  2. Sandi in FL. - January 16, 2019 7:54 am

    God bless and comfort the sad child who penned that letter to you, Sean.

  3. MyPlace - January 16, 2019 9:05 am

    Ahhhh, Sean… There I was, reading right along and then wham, the cow who understood that boy hit home for me. I knew instantly how that boy felt and I was a puddle of tears. Mother died in 2004, I was stunned when I realized there was no one is left who knew me as a baby. I felt so bereft then, but after 14 years I thought I’d gotten past it. However, that feeling is still right here, and I am shocked at the depth of it’s power. It is amazing how deeply you touch people. I just wanted to tell you, if you don’t know, that you have such a gift!

  4. Lucretia - January 16, 2019 9:15 am

    Thank you, Sean, for the sweet, sweet reminder. . .thank you for using your talents to bless others. . .I do not feel alone this morning, , ,

  5. Steven P Bailey - January 16, 2019 10:44 am

    Wonderful sentiment…

  6. Nancy - January 16, 2019 10:53 am

    Oh Sean, did you ever think that the heart wrenching loss of your father would one day help you soothe the soul of another? You, sweet man, are an amazing gift from agod to us all.

  7. Jeanne Butler - January 16, 2019 11:55 am

    That is beautiful. You learned a lot from your dear father and are passing it along. Love

  8. Sherry - January 16, 2019 12:04 pm

    Thank you, Sean…and I know the lump in my throat will be gone before I have to teach today!

  9. Peggy Savage - January 16, 2019 12:32 pm

    Just beautiful. ….thank you

  10. B Fuller - January 16, 2019 12:43 pm

    Thank you for the timely reminder for those of us grieving an indescribable loss. Your father’s analogy was spot on and l needed to read that this morning. You always bring a little joy and a smile to my face and I’m so glad you were the last live show my husband and l attended (Lynn Haven a few months ago) before he passed. You made us both laugh that night. A lovely musical sound to remember.

  11. Jan - January 16, 2019 12:44 pm

    Awesome story with such an important message! Thank you!

  12. Barbara Bray - January 16, 2019 1:21 pm

    I know for a minute or two she was outside of her pain….and now maybe she can even see some light at the end of the long dark tunnel. Bless your big sweet heart, Sean.

  13. Paggie - January 16, 2019 1:44 pm

    Nice job. Family unity is good for the soul.

    Paggie McSpadden
    a piskie (not sure I spelled it right) from St. Thomas, Greenville

  14. Stephanie Godke - January 16, 2019 2:10 pm

    Thanks. Please put these in a book.

  15. Karen - January 16, 2019 2:19 pm

    This is so lovely. We get to learn about your father and who he was. His goodness touched you in ways that ripple into the lives of so many. What a wonderful lesson he shared with you. It took a very long time for me to learn that lesson. Thank you for sharing your stories with us.

  16. Shelton A. - January 16, 2019 2:22 pm

    Well done, Sean. Outstanding reply to All-Alone (who’s really not alone…).

  17. Connie Havard Ryland - January 16, 2019 2:22 pm

    Goodness. I’ve been reading your words for awhile now, and you always touch me. You truly have a gift. I hope this person is truly not alone-that they have a group of family and friends to hold them and keep them strong. God bless.

  18. Suzanne McElroy - January 16, 2019 2:46 pm


    You always have a reply to those who are in need in one way or another. Many times the answers have to do with your father and the wisdom he shared / taught you. It always helps me to hear about how your father died. My daddy ended his life in a much similar way. It leaves us wondering for all our life……….from 16 to 62. Sometimes you get
    an answer, and sometimes you don’t. But the bottom line is that our daddy’s are not here on this earth anymore. We just have to wonder and try to figure it out over and over. BUT, we do have memories, and we can draw strength and happiness from them.

    Keep telling your memories and stories! You never know that your thoughts might be ones that opens a door for healing or settles a fear. Also There is strength in numbers…. like your uncles, or just a bundle of sticks.


  19. Pat - January 16, 2019 3:23 pm

    Well this is certainly a tear jerker! I just recently talked with a friend who lost her husband 6 years ago and her only child (an adult) this past October. She has no family left, no parents, no grandchildren, no siblings, only one niece that lives out of state, but thank you God for blessing her with wonderful neighbors.

  20. Jack Darnell - January 16, 2019 4:14 pm

    once again I forwarded this to my entire family. Sort or an APB. Their great grandpa would have been 116 this year, their grandpa is 80. Some family members are lost early some late, but it always hurts. Just much longer and heavier if you are young.

    Loved it my friend, THANKS!

  21. Donna Burson - January 16, 2019 6:14 pm

    Lovely, Sean

  22. Debbie Walker - January 16, 2019 9:09 pm

    Dear, Sean, it was my father who passed last August. He was the strongest and smartest man I ever knew. I am an only child and was born on his birthday almost 56 years ago. I have no clue how to face a birthday with the greatest man I knew smiling beside me…..

  23. Diann - February 5, 2019 5:48 pm

    Well I wasn’t expecting that ending but absolutely love this post. Such wise words your daddy spoke. I will certainly use that analogy- we have all been there.


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