Life and Other Happy Endings by Melanie Cantor

When Jennifer Cole is told she has 90 days to live, she ditches the traditional bucket list in favour of writing three, brutally honest letters to the people who have wronged her the most. But once you start telling the truth, it's hard to stop. And Jennifer is about to discover that death has a way of surprising you.

They say you should write letters to the people who’ve hurt you as a form of catharsis and then file them away. Or tear them up. They being the gurus. Yeah, you’ve guessed it, I’ve dabbled a bit. Read a few books, been on a couple of those motivational courses. Not the ones where you walk across hot coals – that’s not my bag – more the ones where someone screams at you for a few hours and you scream back and promise you’re going to change your whole life for ever, until you get home and within one night’s sleep your whole life looks exactly the same as it always did – only you’re a bit poorer because those things cost a frigging fortune.

Olivia is right. Now is the time to say all the things I should have said to the people who matter. I don’t want to die weighed down with regret. I need to find peace. It may well be a crazy idea but I have nothing to lose. Right?

So if writing everything down is a form of catharsis then I’ve decided to write letters to everyone. Yes! Old-fashioned letters. Only I’m going to post mine. What’s to gain otherwise? Of course, I could always send emails, but emails get skimmed. Letters get read. The handwritten ones, anyway. They’re such a rarity nowadays, they feel like something worth consideration. Well, that’s what I’m hoping. 

In the end, I only wrote three but they each took an eternity. I agonized over every line. Checked to ensure nothing had a double meaning or could be misconstrued. I wanted to be totally understood.

The first was to Andy and Elizabeth. In her last aggressive rant, when she was telling me to get out of their lives, Elizabeth pronounced they were ‘as one’ so I’ve written to them ‘as one’. Total transparency. I don’t want there to be any secrets withheld from either of them about either of them. I wrote that I thought since they were the ones who had cheated on me, they could have been kinder. That my reticence at the time didn’t mean I didn’t care. It hurt. It still does. 

I had just suffered my third miscarriage. I was sad and deep in grief but instead of working through it with me, Andy, and finding consolation in each other’s arms, you went elsewhere. And Elizabeth, even though you didn’t know me then, you knew exactly what you were doing. 


Finally I told them I should never have had to spell everything out for them, but since I was dying I felt compelled to – over three heartbroken pages.

The letter to Harry poured out of me alongside the tears. I had to rewrite it a few times simply to ensure it was legible. 

All this time, I still wonder ‘what if?’ What if I had fought for you? What if I had told you how much you meant to me instead of pretending I no longer cared? What if I had believed you? Because we were good together. And that kind of relationship doesn’t come easily. I miss you so much, Harry. So there you have it. Full disclosure. Finally, in the theme of candour, despite everything I’d like to see you again, if you can bear it? One last goodbye. 

Writing that letter completely emptied me, so it wasn’t until a few days later that I was capable of addressing the one to Isabelle.

How do you tell the sister you love that you are dying? And then pull the pin on that grenade and let loose all the hurtful things she’s done to you, which you’d previously left unchallenged? How do you justify bringing up old wounds she’s not even aware she’s inflicted because you’ve never been brave enough to tell her about them?

But that was what I did. I told her I loved her and then allowed all the old hurt to explode on to the page. I catalogued each duplicity: 

Remember when you stole my boyfriend? And not any boyfriend. Neil! My first love. The one I thought was forever. And you didn’t even apologize…

And on I ploughed. I told her that her actions stung and that her quick tongue hurt, too, and the fact that she was allowed to get away with everything didn’t make it OK. Besides, I wrote, I wasn’t the only one she treated that way. I’d observed things that were not mine to meddle in but now, under the circumstances, I thought she would benefit from knowing the repercussions. In fact, there were several people who might benefit from her knowing, even if I didn’t.

I changed my mind about writing to the doctor. I don’t want to shoot the messenger. I need him. I have an appointment in a couple of weeks – Eunice, the receptionist, tracked me down! – and I want him to behave like a doctor, not an apologetic victim. I guess he was only doing his job.

I’ve sat looking at these damned envelopes for days (too many crosses on my calendar). But, aware I’m wasting valuable time, I finally summon the courage to let them go and here I am, standing in front of a bright red post box.

If anyone’s watching me, they’re probably wondering what on earth I’m up to. I put my hand out to let go, then pull back. I stand and ponder. I count them in case I might have dropped one. I check the addresses. I question my motives. Do I really want to post them? Isn’t it enough to write them; to observe the wisdom of the gurus and simply file them away?

And then I remind myself. I am dying.

So I get a grip and push the letters into the red slit of mouth.

And finally, with a flourish, I let them go.

It feels scary. My heart skips a beat, wishing I could climb in and retrieve them, but I turn around and walk back home.

I did it! I actually did it. And I feel brave.

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