An Advice Column I Write to Myself, Letter Four— Q: Dear Kelly, Loving my family is killing me. How long can I love them? How long can they stay so sad?

Dear Kelly,

I am one of four children. I have two brothers, both with dark skin and dark hair, and then a sister with dazzlingly white skin and bright red hair. I was a rung in the middle of the ladder, pancake-batter skin and dark hair. I didn’t look like any of them, and I really didn’t need much from any of them.

Still, I love/loved/love them.

I don’t know why. I mean, I guess it has something to do with history. But I love them. I know I do, because I can’t think of them without tears coming to my eyes. I can’t think of them without thinking, they aren’t a them — WE are a we. I can’t think of them without thinking of me.

My siblings are, collectively — and outside of my mother and father — the saddest group of people I know.

Their sadness is the kind of sadness that suffocates joy. The kind of sadness that is waiting behind every door they walk by, every tree they pass. They are never safe from it. You could even share a laugh with them! — and ten minutes later, there they’d be again. Back down. In the sad.

I’m used to it! Right? This isn’t new! We’ve been alive a long time! Three of us are in our 30’s and only one of us just hit the 40’s, so this is not a new game! I have been sitting here, waiting, waiting, for their happiness to show up for SO VERY LONG. And I don’t see it coming.

My question is: how do I keep loving them? Do I have to? Sometimes, it feels like it’s killing me. Loving people who don’t love themselves. Loving people who live in the dark. Loving people who don’t know how to receive my love, nor give it back. It feels like loving the lost. It feels like loss. And a lifetime is far too long to mourn.

I, too, have lived in sad. For fuck’s sake, I have hated oldies my entire life. Do you know why? Because the beats and the harmonies and the overall tone of that music genre sounds TOO FUCKING HAPPY. Grates on every last nerve. Always has.

I didn’t even know it was weird to only like sad music until my college roomate starting yelling at me about the suicidal air in our dorm room. She promptly turned Sarah McLachlan off and Bjork ON.

I have spent an insane amount of time and energy cultivating happiness. I work so hard at it, it’s like a full-time job. I watch doors and trees like a fucking ninja. I come from the same sad house and I have the same sad ghosts. But I fight like a sonuvabitch on my own behalf. I fight like hell to be happy.

So I guess it’s two parts, then. How do I — and should I — keep loving them — — and how do I thrive when loving them constantly makes me sad?

In brother-and-sisterhood,

Kelly

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Kelly,

Sweetie. Sheesh. Your heart. It must hurt.

Also — thanks for a big fucking question, jackass. You didn’t have any questions idling in you that were more along the lines of ‘Should I cut my hair super short again?’

Nevermind. I like a challenge.

Okay.

Sweetie,

You’re going to love your siblings until you are wrinkled and gray. Until your skin tone matches all of theirs more closely, until you are shrink closer to your bones. They are the children that lived with you from the day you emerged a child, and from the days that they did, too. You guys fought the same fights, and you won the same battles, and you drank the same well water. You guys ate gooseberries from the gooseberry bush in the front yard, even though they were bitter as shit — when your mom locked you out of the house — pretending that they were all you had to live on, now, puckering your faces up at each other and squealing in half horror, half delight. Your little child brains formed in and around each other. You can’t remember it, but I could almost bet that you held each of their little hands, at least once. Mano a mano.

You’re going to love them forever. And that’s okay.

It’s also okay if it hurts.

Love is not a promise. It’s not a shooting star. It’s not a guarantee of anything. It’s an emotion with the weight of a raging bull and the reverberation of a bullhorn.

I’m sorry that it hurts to love them.

*

What I ask of you is just to continue loving them from far away. Don’t set them up to fail you, so that you can fall back into your Sarah McLachlan sessions. I hate to tell you this, but — if you really are fighting for your own happiness, you might have to fight against the impetus to reach out to them. Not always. But sometimes.

Hurt people hurt. Hurt people hurt people. These sayings have been said a thousand times on a thousand different colored backgrounds with a thousand different fonts. And that’s because these sayings are true. Hurt people don’t know how to love very well. They’re too busy hurting. You say cultivating your happiness is a full-time job? So is hurting, little miss. You just be grateful you had the wherewithal to flip the coin.

That said —

on the days you feel the STRONGEST — the very strongest that you ever feel —

Reach out. To one of them, or two of them, or even all three. And tell them something nice. It can be about you, or something you recall, or something that you like about them. Or it can be some other, general, happy reminder. The sky is so blue today!, you might want to say. Did you get a chance to look at tonight’s moon? Go now!

It can be as simple as saying: I’m alive. You’re alive. I remember you.

I’m sorry it hurts. But trying to act like you don’t love them won’t make it hurt any less. You’re exactly right. A lifetime is too long to love someone who is lost. It IS a loss. A lifetime is far too long to mourn.

But mourning is a part of life, just like cultivating joy. Keep fighting for your happiness, and make sure you let the latter win.