August 18, 2023
Today would have been your 107th birthday! Fred, Sara and I flew annually to Cleveland to celebrate your birthday. By January of 1992, we already had our plane tickets to travel to Ohio in mid August. Nothing could stop us!
However, that year you had different plans. One month earlier, in July of that year, my family and I were vacationing on the coast of Spain. You and I spoke on July 5, just before we left for the airport. Cheerful as always, you wished us a happy trip.
It was not the happiest of trips. Sara and I made emergency trips to the hospital. I turned green from my medication. But I stayed upbeat because you were my model. Then I received the telegram, called my brother, and learned of your death. NO NO NO, I screamed all the back from the phone booth to our tiny condominium. It was not even possible in my mind. You were only seventy-five and had never told me that you had heart problems. I was completely in shock.
In fact, 1992 was a very challenging year. I turned forty in April, got pregnant in May but lost the baby in June. Hoping to escape from that grief, we travelled to Spain only to learn of your death. I got pregnant in August, carried the baby for three months and then had a miscarriage. Yet that time, I could not even call you for comfort. I was devastated and I had no idea how to begin to grieve.
Sixteen years later I started writing letters to you, because that is what we did in our family. For fifty years–from the time I left for college at eighteen until my brother died three years ago—I wrote weekly letters home. First I wrote to you, Dad and Charlie. Then to you and Charlie. Finally, for the last twenty-eight years, just to my brother. I grew up writing letters—to pen pals, cousins and friends. I have written thousands of letters in my life, so writing to you seemed completely natural even though you would never receive them by mail.
In those letters, I finally let myself feel all of the emotions I had stuffed deep inside my soul since your death. Part of me had been afraid that, if I started crying, I would never stop. So I did not dare to touch that hidden grief. I wrote and wrote, and cried and cried. I got mad and sad. I got honest with myself.
Then on Mother’s Day of 2016, after writing a letter to you, I realized that it ended in a different way and I knew I was done. Writing those letters to you was my way of saying goodbye, of having the conversations that a mother and daughter have, but that was not possible for us.
After twenty-four years, I had found peace and acceptance. I still miss you; I always will. I love when you come into my dreams. Recently I dreamt I had to drive along a dark and winding mountain road at night without knowing where I was going. Though frightened, I knew I had to proceed. After starting the engine, I looked over. In the passenger’s seat, glowing in brilliant white light, I saw you. In that moment, I knew I would arrive safely at my destination, because you were right there, next to me. I still cry when I think of that dream because it is true. Life comes with many challenges, but when I remember that you are with me, I find the courage to take the next step, and then the next. Thank you, Mom.
I am in the process of publishing a book of my letters to you because writing them helped me not only find acceptance and peace, but also joy, hope and gratitude. As I processed the childhood stories and a lifetime of feelings, I became intimately aware of how much you had taught me. A mom can never teach her child everything. We must all learn our own lessons. But you taught me to find beauty and good wherever I looked—in nature, in people. You taught me to be kind, to share, to reach out, to help. You taught me lasting values, not by lecturing, but by living out those values in your everyday life. You were an extraordinary model to me, Mom, and I am deeply grateful.
During the Pandemic, myriad people suffered similar losses—of a parent, child, spouse, friend—without a chance of saying goodbye or processing any of the feelings that accompany the trauma of a beloved’s death, and the ensuing grief.
It is my hope that, in some way, reading my letters will help others understand that we are never truly alone. Our loved ones, even when we cannot see or touch them, are always with us. When we trust that, we can honor their stories, feel gratitude for all they taught us, find the courage to experience our emotions and then move forward in our own lives with a deeper sense of joy. Above all, writing those letters has the potential of helping us create a new loving bond with them.
Mom, thank you for always being with me, for coming into my dreams, for lighting my way. I love you.