A Letter to Mama, if you're reading...


I've tried talking to you. Sometimes, I pretend to call you up on the phone, and I even hear your responses ring in my ear. But lately, it hasn't been enough. I've got so much I want to tell you, and pretend-talking to you just isn't fulfilling my needs. So, I'm writing to you. I'm handwriting to you. And somehow, I feel you with me. So I thought, if mom were here, she'd say, go share this with the world. Other grievers might like to know that writing to their loved one might bring a sense of peace. You are always finding ways to inspire me.

Which brings me to what caused me to start writing to you in the first place.

I've been thinking about you in different ways than I was when you first passed. By the way, it's been almost four months since I last saw you. It's been more than six months since we last had a conversation that wasn't about cancer. And it's been nearly eight months since I started having real problems.

Before your cancer, my life was easy. Of course, I didn't know it was easy - though you were sure to remind me here and there. I decided my life became hard when you got cancer eight months ago. This is a real problem, I'd tell myself, over and over again until I was sobbing on my bedroom floor, unable to breathe, teeth clenched with anger and resentment at God, at the universe, at you. This went on during your illness, especially during those last three weeks of your life. And especially after you passed. 

This is a problem that won't go away. This means my life is bad, wrong, messed up, there is no going back to normalcy. These thoughts ruined me for a while.

I know the last thing you'd ever want is for your illness and your death to be the reason my life is not okay or easy anymore. And that's mainly what I've been thinking about lately.

I remember so clearly and painfully, the day I rushed home to Pennsylvania. You had just gotten emergency surgery, one that would change your life forever. At the time, we were told that you still had a full life to live. The worst part about everything for you was your colostomy bag. We were told it was permanent, but that it saved your life. Oh, what I'd give if that were the only worry to this day. Still, deep down, I couldn't shake the idea that this would somehow go so wrong, and that I might lose you forever.

I came straight to the hospital. Everyone had gone home to rest, so it was just you and I. We stayed up late, crying. Me, imagining a world without you; you, imagining a world with a poop bag attached to your side, or worse, not surviving this. You told me your fears that night. I remember them word for word:

"I'm not afraid of dying. I'll be dead, it won't matter to me. What I'm afraid of is what will happen to my kids. I'm afraid one or more of you won't be okay. I'm afraid one of you might not survive this."

I cried in agreeance. It was true. The thought of you dying for me was unbearable. It paralyzed me. No eating, no drinking water, no smiling, so long as the thought of you dying was anywhere near my mind. I told you this, but I also assured you that I would be okay somehow. I couldn't say the same for my siblings, but I would be okay. However, I in no way believed that. I was terrified, stunned, numb at times, but torn apart for the most part. I would never be okay, I thought. But again, I heard the words exit my mouth, "I'll be okay, Mom."

You responded with, "I know."

I overlooked your confidence in me in that moment. In fact, your response almost angered me. How dare her think I could live without her. Doesn't she know how important she is to me? I held onto that anger throughout the last few weeks of your life. How dare her refuse to eat. How dare her not want to talk to us, knowing she might not have very long. How dare her choose this! How dare her die! I redirected that anger to other areas of my life - the doctors, my relationship, my career, my friendships, my family. Of course, in the end, that anger was only truly hurting myself.

Since you died, anger filled me up every morning, and I spent each day finding ways to expell it. It was very difficult for me until recently, when I started thinking about what I've been thinking about lately.

Your fears were just. None of us are okay. How could we be okay, Ma? We lost the one person who made us feel okay. There have been days where I want to stop living because you are gone and I need you. That is what I tell myself over and over again. And the thought drives me crazy. I need her, she is not here, so I should go.

Don't worry. I'm not going to stop living. I assure you of that, and this time, I mean it.

I just want you to know that your passing has had a huge impact on me.

The good part about it, though -- yes, there is a good part -- is that, that very impact that drives me towards suicidal thoughts, also drives me towards passion, fulfillment, enlightenment, and love. When I think of your only fear before passing, your selfless fear for us, and not for you, I realize how loved I was, how cared for, how lucky. I realize that I never want to let you down. I never want to live out your fear.

The fear that you so vulnerably expressed to me on that terrifying night in the hospital, is what drives me today. It's what drives me away from those suicidal thoughts. It's what drives me to be the best version of myself, as much as I possibly can.

Your fear drives me to step outside of myself. To put my fears for myself aside, and to think of those who love me.

I hope you saw that while you were laying there those last few months of your life, with so many surrounding you, praying for you and caring for you, or in the days that followed your passing, when so many came to celebrate your life. So many people have been grieving so heavily for you, Mom. Did you see the line at your wake? It was over two hours long. You are a celebrity, girlfriend.

I hope you truly knew then that I would not let you down. That I would find a way to turn my pain into a positive. I've been thinking about all that I've learned since you died, and I fear that I may have needed your death in order to get to this place of peace and enlightenment. I begin to wonder if that is where the "plan" comes in...that word "fate" that people always throwing around. I wonder if that is what you'd tell me if you could talk to me right now. "This was the plan all along, Tay Tay. Take it in and let it go. Let it take you places. Do not dwell, just move forward."

I've learned that this life is not about me. That my fears are not important. What is important is love. Love is everything. And I'm going to say what I'm going to say without any fear: you were not everything, Mom. I thought you were, but you weren't. Because look: I'm still here. Dad's still here. Everyone is still here. We're all not completely okay, but we're here. We're breathing. We're even laughing at times! We've had our differences, because we wouldn't be your family if we agreed on everything all of the time. But we have expressed more than ever how much we love each other. You would be so proud of each of us.

Accepting the fact that you weren't everything to me was very difficult. But I took time to work through what that means for me. You weren't everything to me because you didn't allow yourself to be everything. You were a whole lot, that's for sure. But as far as I go, you taught me to make my life rich with diversity. You taught me how to love lots of things at once. You let me fly like a hummingbird at a young age, dipping in and out of whatever I wanted to do and see and experience. You showed me how to be happy on my own. And because of that, I am okay without you.

I am okay without you. I am more than surviving without you. I sometimes feel like I am a better human since you passed, because of who you were, how you lived, and especially how you died - with so much love for others. How admirable you were. I am a better human after witnessing that, Mom. (I'm way more emotional, too. Thanks!)

Oh, how I wish I could call you up each time I have a revelation about the meaning of life, like I used to. I want to hear you say, "That's right Tay Tay. You've got it all figured out."

That validation from you was so fulfilling for me. In fact, I almost needed it in order to feel good about myself. But now, I understand that I never really needed it. You taught me how to be strong and confident without the validation of others.

Why did it take your death to get me here?

That question is only one I'd let you answer. But since you can't, I'll just let it go. Because that's what you'd tell me to do. "Don't dwell, honey. You'll figure it out, move on, forget about it, or find the answer when you're not looking." Thank you for always giving such sound advice. Your beautifully-said words seem to pop into my head at the perfect moments - you know, the moments where I'm lying on my bedroom floor, sobbing, unable to catch my breath, needing your comfort so terribly.

I do wish I could thank you one last time, for being such a light in this dark world. For your unwavering ability to forgive, to accept, to try to understand others. I was hard on you at times, as most daughters are on their mothers, thinking you did not understand me, nor try to. Thinking you had some ulterior motive behind some of the things you'd say. But I realized two summers ago - and thank God I did - that everything you've ever done for me or said to me came from a place of pure love. I'll never forget the conversation we had when I experienced this realization. Oh, how we cried. You said, "Oh baby Tay, I don't need you to tell me this, but it feels so good hearing it. Thank you for understanding me." You wrote me a card after that, and ended it with, "You are always closest to my heart. Thank YOU for always loving and supporting me." I hung it in my room as a constant reminder of your brilliance in my life.

Mama, I'll love you forever. I'll never forget how you made me feel. I'll cherish your thoughtful advice always. I'll pass it down to my family. Your spirit will never fade.

I love you more.


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About the Author

A grieving writer, suffering the loss of her mother and best friend.

I'm Grieving, Now What?