“To write is human, to get mail: Devine!” Susan Lendroth
I didn’t know it would be the last letter I would ever write my Mother, that it would never be delivered, and I would not find it until four years after her death.
Have you ever questioned your understanding of time? How it slips by unnoticed until one day you’re given a blatant reminder, emphasizing our limited time, reminding us not to waste a single moment.
My reminder came right from the grave.
As you know there’s a story behind everything, sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are humorous, but behind most of my stories is my mother, because she is the beginning, middle, and end.
I share this story enmeshed in deep emotion that has nowhere to go but onto the page, receive it gently, with the upmost care, I’m a fragile one today.
…There was no way around it, I had to clean out my grandmother’s desk in preparation for the blasted remodel, and I’ve been procrastinating for weeks. Okay, months. Seriously. The tasks I allow to get between me and this old desk range from dusting the ceiling fans, spit shining the kitchen facet, to scrubbing the latrines.
What am I avoiding?
Dust, tarnish, and grim? No!
I’m actually afraid of confronting all those potent memories tucked in that broken-down, antiquated secretary, with four innocent-looking wooden drawers. It’s my pandora’s box because over the years it has become my favorite place to stash that which I love, but no longer has a place in my life.
It’s where I stored all the crap from my stamp phase, I used to ink everything with Have a nice day and smiley faces, nothing was sacred, not letters, lunch bags, or the back of one’s hand. Thank God it was only a phase. There are at least a dozen manuscripts of my first novel in various stages of completion, all bound, covered, and dated. Along with stacks of old report cards, an old farmhouse calendar my sister gave me when we lived in Kansas, catechism projects, flashlights, cords dating back to the last century, gift certificates, sunglasses in various stages of disrepair, stationery for every occasion, decades of Mother’s Day cards, coupons I never redeemed, even an eyeglass repair kit. Oh and a couple of fans you plug it into a computer from my menopausal days.
I know, I know, I’m a hoarder, but I’m coming out of the desk (so to speak), and into the light. As I sift through years of rubbish I notice my proclivities surfacing as if the sun in the early dawn.
So I have my keeper box sitting on the floor next to my chair and I decide to work from the bottom drawer up. I’ve discarded just about everything in every drawer except for the calendar my sister gave me because now it appears charming, and I think it will be adorable in the mermaid room.
I tossed all the old manuscripts, except for the latest version, the entire stamp collection along with the dried-up ink pads, fans, flashlights, walkie-talkies, and felt pens that have long since dried. It’s like losing weight, you never want to go through the privation again, but the result is delightful.
The area I’m actively avoiding is the pull-down section of the desk. This is the easiest place to stash things quickly, especially when unexpected company arrives at the door, I would dump whenever that seemed unsightly into this cavernous vault, but consistently failed to retrieve the embarrassing clutter when the commotion died down. Well, I don’t know about you, that’s just me, I’ll deal with it later is my go to motto.
Lining the back of the desk is a built-in section with two secret pocket storage cubbies, and a bunch of open cubicles that are completely jammed with God knows what untidy things?
As I open the desk we exhale together as if the desk and I are experiencing the same deflating emotions. I would take just about any excuse not to spend the next hour of my dwindling life evaluating the remains in this mysterious formation of catacombs if you will.
Slumping in the chair I try to mentally prepare for the task ahead, I’ll need coffee for sure, my feet are cold, and I owe my sister a call.
See, any excuse.
Grabbing the contents out of the first cubby I sift through stacks of crinkled papers, one was a grocery list for Christmas dinner, some recipe cards for various traditional dishes (all available online), a few receipts from Target, Safeway, CVS, and a note reminding me to schedule the dog for grooming. In the second section, note pads, old key rings, six two-dollar bills I was going to put in the kid’s Easter eggs but forgot, and these beautiful red envelopes I ordered on Amazon. What the hell was I thinking? I toss most of it, keeping the two-dollar bills, and red envelopes, which I’ll forget about next year, and God willing I’ll find them again when I’m 80.
Several cubbies later I’m completely spent, this is worse than working out, or plucking my eyebrows. I check the secret drawers, there’s a note reminding me where I hid my Mom’s silver, wonderful, I only spent a year searching the house for the missing cutlery. In the center is a cupboard that locks, I find the key inside attached to a rabbit foot. Lucky me.
As I’m quickly sifting through the last of the stalls my hand lands on a stack of bright green envelopes, all sealed and labeled. I hold them in my hand for a minute. What the hell are these? One is for my sister, one for Sue, Phyllis, and Jill. The last one is labeled Mom.
A jolt of emotion runs through me. I wrote this when she was alive.
I take the stack to my room and set them on Mom’s marble table. I’m not ready, I realize I’m holding onto a piece of my Mom that once revealed will no longer feel like an encounter, and this is what I want more than anything.
I’ve become Scarlett O’Hara, “after all, tomorrow is another day.”
Refreshing my coffee, I sit in the chair and stare at the notes as if they were the blessed Eucharist and the presence of each person is resting with me. We’re having dinner with the Bahue’s in a few days so I can deliver Phillis’s note in person. We have a dinner with the Armstrong’s scheduled in a week or two and I can bring Jill’s to that event. I’ll bring Sue’s on our walk tomorrow and Nancy’s the next time I join her for coffee.
Maybe we’ll be able to figure out when these notes were written by the content of the message?
Over the next several weeks I pass out the notes to my friends and sister where we discover they are indeed thank you notes for birthday gifts from five years ago. I was caught up in Mom’s care by that time and must have stuck them on the desk hoping to post them when I had some time? But they were forgotten in the fog of caring for someone who is laboring from this life to the next.
Weeks pass and the little note with the word Mom sits on the table in my bedroom as if I was going to see her soon and can pass it along. As I’ve noted before it’s not a good idea to get between me and my delusions. So there it sits taunting me to pick it up, to read the words, to remember a time when I had the privilege of thanking her for the many ways she has gifted my life.
Finally, I’m alone in our home, a rarity these days, with her little green note. I pick up the envelope, gauge the weight of it in my hand, turning it over and over while trying to imagine what I might have been thinking when I sat down to write her this last note, when I thought I could just pop in the mail, and she’d receive it days later.
Slipping my finger between the flap and the envelope dislodging the old glue I gently pull out the folded note.
Dearest Mom…I linger with the words of gratitude thanking my sweet Mom for the last birthday gift she would ever purchase for me, I think of the courage it took for her to battle this hideous disease, and how in the world she found the energy to think of me on my birthday. In this last note I express my love, my gratitude, I write of her heroic fight, I dare to speak of her next birthday, the one time did not allow us to celebrate.
I’m overwhelmed with unshed emotion.
“By the time you read this letter, these words will be those of the past. The me of now will be gone.” Fennel Hudson
If there was an eleventh commandment my Mom would have added thou shall write a thank you note for every gift ever received. If I failed to write my notes in a timely manner I felt as if I needed to go to confession. Seriously.
How do you know when a hug will be your last? I did not know it was the last time I would hold her hand, the last time we laughed together, the last moments I would spend with the woman who brought me into this world, connected umbilically, and yet, she continues to nourish me with unexpected gifts, in the form of a card, stashed in the cubby of her mother’s desk, reminding me how grateful I am for her love.
Thank God because I would not have been able to function if I had known these were my last moments with the woman who raised me to write thank-you notes. Now I know why.
Whenever I don’t know what to do with my wayward emotions I call my sister.
“Hey, Nan,” like a thousand calls before, but today I’m cognizant that every moment could be our last.
I’m Living in the Gap, missing my Mom, care to join me in a good cry?
- “Without you there would be no me. I am everything reflected in your eyes. I am everything approved by your smile. I am everything born of your guidance. I am me only because of you.” Richelle E. Goodrich
- “. . . I do not tell you often enough, dear Mother, how very grateful I am that I am yours. It is a rare parent who would offer a child such latitude and understanding. It is an even rarer one who calls a daughter friend. I do love you, dear Mama.” Julia Quinn
- “There is something about losing your mother that is permanent and inexpressable – a wound that will never quite heal.” Susan Wiggs