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Letter to my mother




I sat in the chapel and tried to talk to you. It was difficult to imagine you were there because you haven’t been here in a long time. As much as I begged and pleaded with you to come back; you never did. All the times I needed you; you were never here. Why would you be here now? I guess I can concentrate on what I would say to you if you were here; if somehow you came back and I, as an adult, could talk to you, what would I want to ask you?

Why? That would be my first question. It would be the start of so many of my questions

Why didn’t you prepare for your death? Why didn’t you ask someone to talk to me about you? Why didn’t you ask someone to make sure I understood how very much you loved me? Why didn’t you leave me something, anything that was yours? Why did you leave me? Why did you desert me? Why didn’t you come back? Well, that didn’t last long – I went back to my 6-year-old thoughts and beliefs very quickly.

Did you know what my life would be like after you were gone? I imagine you felt powerless, that everything was beyond your control.  

Why didn’t you tell anyone that you were going to die? Did you think somehow you could survive? Did you wait too long? Were you exhausted, sick, and depressed by the time you realized you were going to die? Was it too much; was it too much to think about everything you were going to miss?


If you were here, I would tell you about my life. I would tell you about my husband and my children; how proud I am of them. How much I love them.

Your death was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. The only thing that got me through it was the believe that you were going to come back. I would stand by your grave because it was the only place that I felt close to you, it was the only place where it seemed ok to think about you, to acknowledge that you existed. There was no sign of you at home, it was as if you ever existed, all your things, all your pictures, everything that would help me to remember you were put away, Dad remarried, and it was understood that we couldn’t talk about you.

I tried to call your sisters; but the only number I have for them is no longer a working number. The only person I can think to ask for their number is my sister, and she won’t speak to me. She is angry because I wouldn’t let her tell me what to do while Dad was dying. She is angry because she thought I stole her inherence. She has been angry with me for years because I called our stepmother Mom. She thought I was betraying you. She thought that I forgot about you, that I was replacing you.

How could I ever forget about you? How could I ever stop needing you? You were gone; I was 6 years old and I needed a mother. My stepmother was the only one there, so yes, I called her mom, I loved her and thought of her as my mom. But she never took your place. My sister was 16 when they were married, I can understand her anger, I can understand how it would upset her. But she’s not a child anymore, I explained the dynamics of my relationship at our stepmother’s funeral. Is it that difficult to understand?

Your death was so unfair. I deserved to have you here. I deserved to grow up with my mother – with you. I have felt angry and betrayed ever since you died. But maybe that’s how you felt too; maybe you were angry, maybe you felt your body betrayed you, maybe you felt that God betrayed you. Were you determined to win, to beat the disease and survive? Did you think that if you didn’t acknowledge that you had a terminal illness you might survive? To admit that you were going to die would be giving up, and. Did you believe that your death was unfair? Did you feel powerless over what was happening inside your body? Maybe you looked at me and saw how small I was, did you think about how alone I would be without you?

I don’t know much about you; but if I just take a moment, maybe I’ll find that I know more than I think I do. What do I know? What have I discovered by asking questions and listening to what people have told me? Can I understand who you were if I put all the small bits of information together?

What do I remember and what do I know about you? What did other people think and feel about you?

·        I know that you loved me. I remember feeling loved when I was with you. I remember feeling that I mattered; that I was important to you. I remember sitting on your lap while you read to me. I remember saying prayers with you. I remember you tucking me into bed; you were the only one who ever tucked me and said prayers with me. Dad would come in and act like he was going to tuck me in, but he was there to hurt me – not to say prayers, not to say good night.

·        I have other memories of you; but they are vague. I don’t remember many of the details.

But I do know more… I have information about you from other people – Some information from family, some from people at church, and some from neighbors. What did they tell me?

·        I’ve had several people tell me that I am very much like you. That I have the same manner about me.

·         You were quiet and kind. That you had a calmness about you.

·        People have told me that I look like you. Some have stated it as if it were obvious. Others have told me that I don’t look anything like you – they would point out that you were short, that you had black curly hair and brown eyes – I have none of these traits. But if you look closer, if you look at the shape of my face, my features, the shape of my eyes, my nose, and my mouth – they are very similar to yours.

·        I’ve been told that you were smart, that you had a temper if you were pushed far enough.

·        I know that your favorite color was red, and your favorite flowers were roses.

·        I know that you didn’t want to die. You didn’t want to leave me or any of my siblings. I know you thought about the things you would miss.

Most of my personal memories are feelings. They are memories of you as my mother, but I never really thought of you as anything else. In my life that was all that mattered, that you were my mother, that you loved me, and you were there to love me and take care of me. In my 6-year-old mind – that was all there really was to know. I don’t think any 6-year-old sees their mother as anything more. You died when I was 6; so those are the memories I have. I missed a lot; I missed discovering who you were beyond being my mother. You didn’t live long enough for our relationship to change as I grew older. I will never know exactly what you were like, I’ll never know what our relationship would have been had you been here. I can get information from others, and that will help, but its never going to give me what I want. It’s not going to give me memories that would have come from experiences that we weren’t able to share. It’s never going to answer all my questions because you are the only one who can answer some of them and you are gone. I’m never going to know what my life would have been like if you had survived.

I still feel like a part of me is missing. I still miss you, and a part of me is still waiting for you to return. I still feel the hole in my heart when I think of you – a space that nothing else seems to fill. I still experience a feeling of desperation and fear when I think about your death. A part of me is still constantly aware of your absence. I dont believe any of these things will ever go away.


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