Twenty years ago today, I wrote my first letter to my three sisters commemorating
my mom on her birthday. My mother died suddenly at the age of 47 years 8 months with four daughters ages 20, 23 and 26 and one just shy of ten years old. Seven and a half years later, I still felt stuck in grief. I wrote this letter while sitting at my mother’s gravesite on what would have been her 55th birthday.
I worried how it would be received, but I wrote it and sent it anyway. I’m so thankful I took that step. It helped me with my grief, and I feel closer to each of my sisters than I did at that point in my life. Today I feel able to fully experience sadness and joy for all my mom did and all she missed in a way that brings me comfort.
It blows me away that this first letter was written 15 days after 9-11. It was such a pivotal moment in history for our country and individuals personally, and it brought my grief to the surface for all who had suddenly lost their own loved one to a tragedy. When people die in an accident or incident, the news report how many people died. The news doesn’t even begin to capture the pain, loss or recovery that lies ahead for many who are injured and left behind.
An excerpt from that first letter:
I thought coping meant behaving as if everything is fine.
Yet, the holidays always posed a distinct sadness. How could I enjoy Mother’s Day when I missed my own Mother so desperately? How could I sufficiently remember and honor Mom’s birthday when it seems my chance is passed? How can I make myself feel better when I don’t think I should be so incredibly upset anymore? We’re always told that time heals all wounds. So what’s wrong with me that after seven years, I’m still having trouble? All my friends who are my age still have their parents. And the friends that don’t, they still had their parents until they were a ripe old age.
It’s been 7½ years since her death, and I’m just now starting to feel like I’m allowed to ask for help in sorting through my feelings. Just before Mother’s Day this year, a friend suggested I create a new tradition to celebrate holidays and special occasions. I came up with writing letters to my sisters that remember and honor Mom for the incredible person she was.
I think this approach has made me feel a lot better. I looked forward to today even though I knew the tears would flow freely. I feel satisfied that I have appropriately honored Mom. I hope we can learn from each other and provide support.
After the September 11th tragedy, a counselor told me, “Talking about it doesn’t make you sad, what happened made you sad.” That made me feel a lot better, because not talking about it hasn’t made me feel better either. Maybe if we keep talking, someday we’ll feel a lot better about this than we do now.
I need my friends and family to know that Mom had a profound impact on my life. Her death was not only a loss to us, it was a loss for the world. She was an amazing woman who shouldn’t be forgotten.
I did this at the suggestion of a friend to create a new tradition to celebrate holidays and special occasions. I came up with writing letters to my sisters that remember and honor our Mom for the incredible person she was.
On what would be my mom’s 75th birthday, I reflect on that first letter and feel immense satisfaction that I’ve reached a point where I can celebrate all my mother did and all she missed in a way that’s comforting to me. In twenty years, I've written forty messages, one on our mom's birthday and one on Mother's Day. Some focus on loss and how much our mom missed in hers and our lives, and some focus on how much she accomplished in her short life. They all share memories, celebrate our connection to each other, and reflect on how much our mom is a part of each of us.
I think my letters or social media posts could be misconstrued as still having not dealt with my mom’s death, but I believe my posts reflect how hard it is and how far I’ve come. Losing a parent or anyone we love is a universal experience that almost everyone will have at some point in their lives.
I share this in hopes that anyone struggling with grief will find a way to connect with others to navigate their journey to a place that brings comfort to them. If this resonates with you, please, please know that you’re not alone. It’s natural to retreat and close ourselves off from others when we hurt. In those moments, it is the act of reaching out, showing vulnerability, and asking for help that creates a path out of the darkness. Not everyone is equipped to help, but many are willing. Patience and persistence with others help. Professional help may be necessary. It’s an act of strength to recognize things aren’t good and reach out for help.
When I was hurting and felt alone, I was seeing a counselor. That was helpful, but taking the step to reach out to my family and friends was necessary to move beyond the pain to a new phase of healthy expression and connection. I encourage all who are in the midst of loss and grief to reach out if you haven't already. You may have it easier or harder than I did. It’s not a competition, and it’s not judgment to encourage self-care. Do what’s good for you, and do whatever it takes to get where you’ll feel comfort. Know that even if nothing changes, perspective and love can change everything.
People care, and while it's lonely, you’re not alone in your experience. You may be first among your peer group to deal with loss, and your role is to help them when they need help. It's tough being first, it's not fair, and life doesn't care. People do care though. They're the only way to find comfort and fulfillment and enjoy life.
I’ve written a few posts over the years that focus on my mother’s influence with certain lessons that bring me comfort and guide me. Check them out:
My Mother’s Lasting Influence:
The act of supporting and comforting others is truly a thing to nurture and cherish. It lives beyond the moments we share and shapes our ability to persevere. My mother’s influence many years after her passing is proof for me. She continues to guide my actions, she inspires me to be someone who gives love and support, and she encourages me to live a life of contribution where I’m able. Her love endures as a fact of my existence and influences all I do.
We All Have Hardships And Inspiration Is Everywhere
It’s beautiful to know we each have a unique experience and still we all share feelings about them that bind us together. To feel a kinship laced with understanding, respect and love for our fellow grievers, survivors, sufferers and thrivers is heartening and motivating to keep going when it’s tougher than usual. It can give us the strength we need to continue with our own hardships when others are in the midst of greater suffering.
The Lasting Love of a Long Gone Mother
A lesson I learned when my mother died is one I try to live by still – make sure each of my relationships is in a place I’m okay with if one of us is gone suddenly. It doesn’t mean all of them are happy, but at least there isn’t something I would regret if I never see them again.