On Wednesday I mailed a letter to my mom. With any luck it will arrive in time for Mother’s Day.
But she will never read it. My father will perform that duty. Owing to a series of minor strokes that have taken a cumulative toll on her cognitive skills and eyesight, she has read nothing that I’ve sent to the two of them these past few years.
My Mother’s Day note is increasingly tough for me to write. As I compose, my composure weakens and erodes. I’m not too proud to admit that as I struggle mightily to search for the right word or say just the right thing, there has been more than one tear, not just this year but last year and the year before that, that has had to be wiped away.
It is far easier for me to outline my feelings on paper vs. a conversation because the page allows an unbroken string of thoughts to pour out, thoughts that are harder to put into words when she and I are on the phone. My dad can take his time to patiently read or re-read each sentence. He probably interprets, with accuracy, what I managed to miscommunicate in poor phrases. I wish I could be there in person to deliver the message. What she receives each Mother’s Day is perhaps the single most important letter of the year for me and, hopefully, for her. It is certainly the most difficult to write.
Here are the last few year’s of Mother’s Day letters to Barbara.
May 5, 2010
Mom: It is hard to believe that there have been 60 of these Mother’s Days in a row for you and my brother and me. For some odd reason I remember as a peanut going up to the drug store with a couple of bucks (no doubt dad gave me the money or maybe it was from my meager earnings delivery the Sun newspaper) to buy some frilly glass vase that was robin-egg blue. I can see it as clearly now as the day I bought it all those years ago. Not even sure if it was wrapped or not or if it was ever used but I also recall my hopes that perhaps it would be used by my mom. Looking back now, it was clearly destined for a garage sale but when you’re seven or eight years old and on a mission to get something nice for your mother, a drug store vase seems like a big deal.
You know, I’ve been thinking about things a lot lately; your ailment, me here, you and dad there, and your other son just a little out West. I wish the distance could be shortened up considerably but I suppose that is the way life fans out. I need to see you, and dad, a lot more often. I enjoy our calls a couple of times a week. You sound good.
How in the world you (and dad) managed to do a better than pretty good job raising two knuckleheads in the face of the antics we pulled is beyond me. We’ve turned out okay, and that’s a testament to you. Not that we’re CEOs, brain surgeons or rocket scientists, but we’ve become pretty good people. So are your grandchildren. They’re just fine people. That they are good kids is a testament that they come from good stock which is linked directly to you. With any luck, your great-grandchildren will be, too.
We can’t know what the days ahead of us hold, but you have been holding your own as of late and that is what we can be grateful for. We’ve all had better days but look at the good days we have had; there are too many to count.
I choose to look at Mother’s Day 2010 as a Thanksgiving Day of sorts. I’m thankful that we are all still here, that we still talk, and that we share a laugh about the things worth a chuckle. Your other son and I wouldn’t be where we are, and the people that we are, without you. That’s what I’m really thankful for.
I love you. Happy Mother’s Day!
May 6, 2009
Mom: Hey, it’s been one hell of a year thus far, but the optimist would say we still have seven good months ahead of us. That’s how we all ought to be thinking about the current situation. We have a lot of good time ahead of us.
My guess is that dad will be reading this note to you, and I wish I could be there in person to relate a hug and a kiss. Your grandkids would no doubt wish the same thing. It’ll have to wait for another time, hopefully sooner than later. I’d like to be there to cook a meal or two, too because I know the old boy might not be keeping pace on that score. Of all his skill sets, working around the kitchen might not be among them.
Sure, this has been a tough stretch, but it seems to me that none of it can replace the prior 59 years that my ‘bro and I have had with you and dad. Those are the times that are really worth remembering. We will always have those to fall back on. If we always worry about ‘right now’ that’s all we will have; right now. That’s not how I choose to look at the picture.
Mom’s day is an invention of the greeting card and floral industries, and it’s a pretty arbitrary date on the calendar, probably timed to coincide with the blooming of lilacs. That’s just my guess. But with all the TLC you’ve had in the past few weeks, you’ve had a string of mother’s days. You’ll just need to ride out this current thing, and we’ll be with you every step of the way. That’s how families work, and we will be there through thick and thin. (If I keep eating and snacking like I do, the “thin” part may no longer apply.)
So I want you to keep your chin up, and while Ralphie and I may not be there every day to offer our love and encouragement, we are thinking about you and dad, and we want everyone to come through this with shining colors. You’ve been a trouper through the first bunch of years, and right now is no time to deviate from that path.
We love you, mom. Now’s the time to keep on keeping on as they used to say in the ‘60s. Happy Mother’s Day.
May 8, 2007
Mom: I know there are tons of pretty, funny cards out there to be had, but they just don’t offer the same amount of space that this sort of page does. The trade off is this isn’t nearly as good looking as the commercial varieties, but we’ll just have to live with it.
Geez, you’ve been my (and Ralphie’s, too) mom for 57+ years now. And, hopefully, many more to come.
One thing about being down here, separated from you and dad and my ‘bro like I am, is that it gives plenty of time to reflect on the family life back in the Midwest. I suppose there’s no getting around that you have been a pretty significant guidance factor in my life, although you’ve been precious little help on straightening out an increasing left-to-right golf game.
Those are the things I’ve tried to instill in Ellen and Reid, too, to the degree that it can be done. That they’ve turned out (thus far) as well as they have is testament to the way you brought Ralph and I up.
I was at a book signing a couple of months ago by a Detroit writer, Mitch Albom. He was the guy who wrote ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’, and now he’s got another short book out there. The title is, I think, ‘For One More Day,’ or something close to that.
His point is that at some point we all let slip by the opportunities to say to loved ones what we should have said all along; I love you, I miss you, this is what you meant to me, etc.
So I won’t wait for either of us to read his book to set the record straight. I do love you (and dad, too) for all the things you have meant to me along the way. Even the frequent periods when I’ve stumbled and bumbled along the way, you guys have always been there when the going got tough, and when it wasn’t so tough as well.
Somehow the roadway is always littered with lame gifts – don’t expect golf balls this year, or next year, for that matter – so this letter will have to suffice for the time being. But in the absence of the short drive to Omaha for one of your dinners (yeah, you’ll have to cook on Mother’s Day) I just wanted you to know that I’ll be there in spirit, just not in body.
I love you, mom. Happy mother’s day.