To The Woman Who Stole My Purse During My Father’s Funeral


We don’t know each other, but we’ve spoken once. Nine years ago. I was 27, and it was the day after my father’s funeral. You answered my cell phone.

Dad loved writing letters, so it felt appropriate to write one to you. I don’t know your name or address, but you certainly know mine. I don’t know anything about you, actually, which seems unfair since you already know so much about me: my birthday, favorite mascara and lip gloss, social security number, etc.

If you scrolled through the pictures on my camera, you also know my friends. My family. My nieces and nephew. You know that I take cliché pictures of clouds from airplane windows, and I love chasing sunsets. You might assume I love flowers, and I do. But the dozen or so photos of roses and orchids? Those were the flowers from dad’s visitation.

If you opened the lavender envelope, you know my dad’s handwriting. You know that even though it was August, I still carried the Easter card he mailed (even though he lived close enough to hand deliver it).

Did you see a limo outside the church and assume it was for a wedding? Were you hoping to find a bridesmaid’s bag tucked away in a room?

Or did you see a hearse and know that sometimes grief makes people do careless things, like leaving purses unattended in a prayer room.

Did you know that I had nightmares about you? I slept on my couch for months because I wanted to keep an eye on the front door, since you knew my address. The rational part of my brain understood that you’d probably forgotten about me the moment my debit and credit cards stopped working for you. But the irrational part – the part ruled by grief and rage over my dad’s sudden death – decided you were diabolical.

Did you know that I stopped trusting people, stopped believing that people were inherently good? A lifelong optimist, I suddenly started assuming the worst.

Did you know that I stopped going to church for a few years because I had panic attacks every time I entered a sanctuary? That, for a time, I decided God left me. In a time of unimaginable loss, I blamed you for my biggest loss of all.

 It’s been nine years, and I still think of you. I’ve imagined what I’d say if I ever met you.

But I realize I know nothing about you. So I have a few questions:

  • Why did you enter the church that Saturday morning? Did you need help? Were you a visitor? Have our paths crossed since then?
  • Did you exit down the stairs by the mosaic of Jesus? Did you notice the colors bouncing off the walls from the streams of sunlight?
  • Do you have a family who loves you? Is your dad still alive, or is grief a common bond? What made you decide to steal? Was it just for fun or to support an addiction? Or did you need money to support your family?
  • Did you by any chance happen to overhear any of my father’s funeral service?

I hope you did.

You would have heard some beautiful music. “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” might have seemed like an odd choice for a funeral, but it was one of dad’s favorites. If you had never before heard “It Is Well” performed by an accomplished cellist, then I guess we can actually call ourselves even.

You also would have heard stories from me and my brother about what it was like being raised by a dad who was so free with his emotions and love for us. You would have hopefully gotten a taste of his sense of humor, and how he encouraged us to see life as “the hilarious spoof it really is.” Even without meeting him, I think you would have felt his passion for life and love for people.

You’ve become a mythical distraction for me, and for that I actually thank you. You provided an outlet for my rage, and your actions left me (temporarily) dead inside. Had I actually been fully present to absorb the deep grief heading my way, I would have shattered far sooner than I actually did.

I’m a mosaic now – broken and glued back together. For the longest time, you alone held the hammer. But in reality, you were simply the final strike. The light and love have returned to my life, and I have no more room for bitterness or fear.

So I’m setting you free. Wherever you are right now, I forgive you.

You’re no longer my epitome of evil. You’re just a fellow broken soul. You know some things about me, but you don’t know my story. And I certainly don’t know yours. But I know it’s an important one.

To quote Dr. Who, “we’re all stories, in the end.”

And if you’d had the chance to know my dad, you’d know that he loved nothing more than a good story.

This first appeared on The Huffington Post.

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