Dear Mom.

If I had known the last time I saw you was going to be the last time, I would have done everything differently. I would have hugged you tighter, skinny as you were, afraid as I was that I might break you. I would have told you that I loved you. I think I might have said it – I can’t remember – but the odds are that I didn’t, because we didn’t exchange those words easily or often in our family. I would have looked at you more carefully, taking in every detail, the same way – I can see only now, with hindsight – that you looked at me. Because you knew what I didn’t, that this would be the last time.

Today, May 25th, is your birthday. You would have been sixty-five. Your birthday was always my favorite day, more so than my own, which may sound like a lie or revisionist history, but I promise that it isn’t. Is there anything better than carefully selecting a gift that you know its recipient will love, and seeing the delight in their eyes when they open it? That was you, Mom. You loved everything I gave you, and making you happy was so easy that it felt like my super power.

The last time I called you on your birthday was five years ago. That’s when I knew that something was wrong. In truth, I had known for a while. But that phone call was the first time I can ever remember that you weren’t happy to hear from me. Normally, when you’d answer the phone, warmth would flood your voice. “Oh, hi, Sar,” you’d say, almost as though the phone call was a pleasant surprise. Not this time. Instead, your tone was angry, combative. “Mom?” I barked, startled. “What’s wrong with you?”

There’s no need to re-live what happened next, that horrible spiral. I’ve never felt so helpless, never felt so worthless, as I did when I couldn’t reach you, couldn’t save you. And just like that, you were gone.

My whole life, losing you was always my worst fear. And then, my worst fear came true. I lost you in the most wrenching, painful way I could imagine. For a while, I lost myself, too. And in order to find myself again, I walked through hell. I learned some important lessons. Lessons I didn’t want to learn, but lessons that I needed to learn. I wish that heartache wasn’t such an effective teacher, but I don’t know how else I could have discovered the depths of my heart and its capacity for love without having it so badly broken, or how much I truly loved to laugh without shedding so many tears.

And here’s something ironic: when I found myself anew, I found you, too. It was a you that I could only fully understand after you’d gone. A you that you couldn’t show me while you were here. A you that had once been so full of life and love and joy and then something went horribly wrong and it never got right again. A you that urged me not to follow in your footsteps, not to make the same mistakes you’d made. And I listened, Mom. I paid attention. I changed my life. And all the while, I kept wondering:

Can you see me?

 Do you know?

 Are you proud?

And now, as I continue to move forward in this life, my greatest fear is that I’ll forget you. I worry that the passage of time will erode my memories, and I’ll forget your voice, or your face, or how important you are to me. But then, out of nowhere, I’ll hear your laugh coming out of my mouth, or I’ll see you in the sculpt of my cheekbone or the arch of my brow or the shape of my eye. And then I’ll realize that I can’t possibly forget, because you are part of me, just like I am part of you.

We are alike, Mom, but we are so different, too. I’m not sure how you’d feel about the life I’m living now. I’m certainly braver than I was, certainly taking bigger risks than I used to when you were alive. And the truth is, I feel scared and alone a lot of the time. I wish that wasn’t so. I wish that I could ask you what I should do, or where I should turn. But then I remind myself that I know what’s right, that I have everything I need, and that my fear of regretting the risks I don’t take is far greater than my fear of failure or of making a mistake.

You gave me that. Or rather, losing you did. Your death gave me a sense of urgency that I didn’t have before I lost you. It gave me a heightened awareness of the danger of deferring my dreams. And it taught me how fleeting happiness is, and that when I have a shot at it, I should grab on to it with both hands and hold on for dear life.

That is something I am sure of: no matter what you might think of the life I’m living now, you would want me to be happy. You would want that above all else. And that is something –  I promise you, Mom –  that I am working toward every single day.

Can you see me?

 Do you know?

 Are you proud?

Happy Birthday, Mom.

Love,

Sarah

25 thoughts on “Dear Mom.

  1. Yes, how do we know? Your remorse is so powerful it transcended me to the day I last spoke with my father. It is selfish of me to quote my own suffering at your remembrance​ and reconciliation that had me transfixed, but that is how we relate with bottomless wounds. Yes, you are a part of her for ever, a part that sees, knows and is proud or otherwise. And yet, there is no requiting the pain.

  2. Thank you for sharing your grief journey. Your words stirred memories of my mother and the sorrow I felt at her death. And the new life (and new perspectives on her) that emerged from that time of sorrow. I’ve recently written about the first blow of loss in “The Smell of My Mother’s House.” Bits of her story are scattered throughout my blog (“Immigrating to a New World” for instance). At any rate, it seems to me that we can both say that our mothers continue to influence our lives and our writing. Thanks again.

  3. I LOVE that mommy and baby picture. That is so precious. This was a perfect post. I totally identify with seeing your mom in yourself. What happens for me is I see my mom in little older strawberry blond ladies shopping in the supermarkets. I concentrated on researching and writing my book the first five years after my mom died. She was helping me until that happened. It helped me get passed the feeling of wanting to go with her. And I know she would have wanted me to finish what we started.

  4. Such a touching tribute to your mother. And to the always complicated relationship with parent dynamic. Your relationship with your mother reminds me so much of my relationship with my father. And he is alive. And I am grateful. The timing is good I’m actually traveling across the country to visit him this weekend. No coincidence to read this post before hand. Thank you for bearing your truth.

  5. hey, i dont know u … but yea for sure i had tears in my eyes … i have recently lost my mother … i m just 19 yrs old and i had already lost my father when i was 3 … so my mother was the only person for whom i have ever lived. she is still living inside me, i miss her so badly its just being 2 months when she left this world … after reading your blog love for my mother got increased … awesome blog…

  6. We never get over the loss of a loved one…we just find ways to cope. But the love and memories will always be there for us to get through the day…

  7. That was really touching to say the least, it made me think of my own mother and how I’ve been meaning to call her but I keep putting it off… I’m gonna call her. Thanks for this!

  8. Pingback: Dear Mom. — Extra Dry Martini | David Falor

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