Cleaning out my mother’s home, I found this letter I’d written to her the Christmas before she died.
I’ve been cleaning up the Christmas tree this week, sweeping pine needles and thinking of the things I’ve never said to you. They are the things no one says to me that I would so love to hear. I’m late telling you what I’m about to write—really late. After all, I have grandchildren now.
Christmas is a lonely time for mothers, I think. So much to do, and so much of it you can’t delegate to others. Thank you for the years upon years of Christmases when you decorated the house and tree, cooked the meals, shopped for the gifts, set it all up, took it all down, and cleaned it all up, all by yourself.
This year, as I put garland around the doors and ornaments on the tree (no one wanted to help me either) and then wrapped gifts in a 12-hour straight marathon, I thought of you—my own mama—who’d done the same for more years than I’ve been alive and never complained. You don’t even make an issue of thank you notes from everyone for the gifts you never forget to send.
Because you provided Christmas so beautifully (and effortlessly, it seemed to me), we were able to have it and enjoy it and, alas, take it for granted.
You’ve done so much for me and my own little family that has gone unsung and unthanked over so many years, it’s hard to know where to start to say thank you. So I’m starting with the post-Christmas mess around me today.
I feel grief for not being the daughter who stopped, her eyes shining, and said, “Mama, the lights! The stockings! The makeup I wanted that you didn’t want me to have! The ring we found in San Francisco! The snow skis! The books! The bike!”
All this bounty.
All this giving.
Thank you, Mama.
But the thanks that are overdue cover much more than just Christmases. They cover my entire lifetime—the middle-of-the-night knee massages while I thrashed with growing pains, the homemade soup when I was sick, the dresses you stayed up all night to make.
Thank you for taking me to ballet lessons and to choir practice and to Girl Scouts and to church week after month after year. Thank you for having two birthday parties some years so I could include all my friends.
Oh, the lake trips! The sleepovers! The Halloween costumes! The homemade, handmade everything! It’s overwhelming when I look back at it all.
Thank you for encouraging me to try new things, to read and to write, to find my way to school and back on my bike, to skate when the pond was frozen with ice.
Thank you for letting multiple groups of friends come for long visits, for trips to the city, for cinnamon buns on the train.
Thank you for my favorite memory of all—the breakfast we cooked in our tent in the rain. It wasn’t the food or the place—it was having you all to myself and nothing else to do but be. We talked about nothing much that I remember, but I can still smell the sterno under the dank, waxy canvas. And I can still feel how close we felt.
As I’ve grown, it’s been easy to focus on what hurt or was out-of-whack as I reflect on my life and on you. I want to be done with that.
I want to celebrate what went right and what gave me life and hope and health and a foundation so solid, I’ve never doubted who I am or whether I’m loved. Those things came from you, Mama—from God through you.
I wish I’d known to say these things along the way. I wish I’d reached out to you, told you how much I noticed and needed you all those years, how grateful I am that you were there. You were just the right mama for me, handpicked by the One who knew me best.
You once told me that children take a mother’s love for granted like they do the air they breathe and the water they drink. A mother is just a given, like gravity, like God.
And they do.
You’re near the finish line. Heaven is closer to you than to me. I know you have friends and family waiting for you there. While I’m eager to get there myself some days, I’m not eager for you to go.
I want you to know that when that day comes, it will absolutely break my heart. It’s breaking now as I type these words. You have always been my biggest fan and most constant support. I can’t imagine walking this earth without you.
I’m afraid I’ve just griped and complained and cussed and dumped and expected so much of you over all the years, that you don’t know, don’t truly know down deep where you need to know it, that my debt to you and my love and affection for you are deep and full.
Deep, like a tap root.
Full, like the towering branches of our pin oak tree.
This is such a small offering after all you’ve given me, like giving a glass of water to Niagara Falls.
I love you vitally, like air. Like water. Like gravity.
Thank you for planting and tending me, Mama. Thank you for so much love.