The Letters

“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?

Anecdotes:

  • “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

41 Comments

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  1. Cheryl, wow. Such poignant, tearful gift you got. I understand the reluctance to read it. Reminders of dear loved ones floor you, but they are welcome when they come, even though difficult at first. Clearing out my mother’s house after she passed was like that. She saved everything. Take care and bless you and your mother’s memory. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good morning Keith, thank you for your kind words, and how easily you understood these deep emotions I have been wrestling with for weeks. Having to clear out the treasures of a loved one is difficult work, especially those sweet mothers who save everything. I totally understand and appreciate your sweet blessing and gently pass it back to you, warmly, C

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Cheryl. I shared your story with my wife and she has similar sentiments with her mother’s passing. She asked me to pass along her warm thoughts. Keith

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Awe, thank you Keith for sharing my story with your wife, please pass on my love and warmth to her, and let her know how much I appreciate a sisters heart in this precarious journey of life. Warmly, C

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    1. Thank you for the hugs Kim, I’ve been a mess lately, this coupled with my last day in the classroom has rendered me an emotional wreak! My son was found me in the hallway crying yesterday, he wrapped me up in a bear hug, opened some wine, and proceeded to remind me of the good things about retiring. He said, “you’ll be able to publish that book Mom,” I nodded but I was most enchanted by his kindness. Warmly, C

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Fraggle, it’s been a difficult week and I can’t seem to come out of this tender state. Maybe this is part of the aging process? We’re suddenly prone to our hearts desires which is to love, warmly, C

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  2. Cheryl: you expressed in such candor feelings I’ve had over the years but never had the words for. It especially hit home when I sold my house of 40 years and moved to Tennessee, as I too, went through all the tubs of saved memorabilia. Thank you for sharing your deepest thoughts and feelings. Wish I could give you hugs. Carol Price

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my goodness, hello Carol, I’ve missed you dearly! The strange thing is when you were weeding through your home of 40 years I still had my mother, I had no idea how difficult it was for you to go through the souvenirs of life before you move! Now that I’ve done so for my Mother and myself I understand. It’s simply a process of the heart and a painful one at that. I’m in a tender state and I appreciate the virtual hug Carol. Hope all is well with you and yours, love, C

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  3. So much great feeling that just jumps off the page (okay, the screen. . .) Your commentary in cataloging the things that so deeply touch your emotions is priceless.

    My favorite? “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.” Utterly brilliant prose, that.

    And to end with Vince Gill. . . very special. Such a wonderful human being. I’d guess he has to be the most down-to-earth Superstar in the music business. I never really knew who he was until I invited to spend an afternoon on the golf course inside the ropes following golfing great Lee Trevino in a charity event years ago and Vince was also in the group. This is where I learned firsthand that Vince Gill is a wonderful person and one hell of a golfer, as well as a superstar entertainer. Been a huge fan ever since. Thank you for your thoughtful and deeply touching musings and for the masterfully paired musical connections to your message neighbor!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good morning Chris, thank you for diving into this post, and feeling along with me those deeply held emotions that touch us all. I think our heartfelt connections to those we love who have passed away might be universal, as this post has touched something deep inside that is sacred, of God, an agape sort of love. What a privilege it is to have been loved in this life. Love your story about Vince Gill, wow, to have spent time with him in person? What a special memory! Thank you for sharing, warmly, C

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  4. I brought two boxes of papers from my mum’s house. I opened one, and found my first senior school report, from when I was 11. Then a note I wrote my mum in clumsy handwriting when I was just 7. Then a birthday card I sent her when she was 70.
    I couldn’t bring myself to open the second box. That was 9 years ago.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good morning Pete, I’m just waking from a very emotional day yesterday, it was my last day of teaching in the classroom where I have been for the last fifteen years. It was an emotional walk down the halls for the last time. I held it together until I got to my car and cried all the way home. My son had just gotten off work, found me in the hall weeping like a child, and scooped my up in a bear hug, opened some wine, and reminded me of why I’m retiring! He’s a good man. Then my sweet sister came by to enjoy a glass with us. It was the tender moment I needed. I woke up this morning and I couldn’t understand the crazy stats until I realized you shared my post. Brought on another round of tears. Thank you my friend for sharing your story of the boxes from your mother, for sharing my story, for caring so deeply, you’re one of a kind Pete, warmly, C

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Oh Pete, you were definately in the room, I feel carried and loved by your community of followers, I’m moving over to your posts now so I can respond to their kind and gentle thoughts. I’m still a mess but not alone and that makes all the difference, C

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    1. Thank you Pete, this warms my heart, it appears our feelings for loved ones who have passed away are universal and it feels so good to not be alone with all these emotions. It’s as if we bury them like seeds in the garden of our heart and they bloom when we least expect it. Thanks for the share, warmly, C

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Taylor, it good to know we are not alone in our emotional response to the memories of those we have loved so deeply. I’m glad this post resonated with you and I can see you have experienced these very same emotions, warmly, C

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  5. I really needed to go get ready for work, but I couldn’t put your story down! I hope you got that good cry for which you invited us to join you… there is nothing like a good, cleansing cry. God knows those years and He restores. Blessings and hugs to you today.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh no Mamalava! I’m sorry I made you late for work which brings on fresh tears as my last day was yesterday! I’m a sappy mess this week and it leaked into the blog. Thanks for joining me in a “good cry,” it feels good to know I’m not alone with all these emotions. Thank you for the blessings and hugs, sending them gently back to you, God is indeed good, he restores all things and that gives me such hope, warmly, C

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks to Pete I popped over to read this beautiful written emotional post. Writing / receiving letters rarely happens nowadays, but I still hang on to some from my distant past. None, unfortunately, to or from my mother who passed away 25 years ago. I wish you a very happy retirement Cheryl and send you hugs at this emotional time. 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jude! What kind words, thank you for popping over and taking the time to read and comment. Means the world to me. I agree letter writing is a thing of the past, I’m still ridiculously thrilled when I receive the occasional letter. It’s as if a gift. Thanks for the good wishes and hugs, back at you! Warmly, C

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  7. Cheryl this brought tears to my eyes! Both of my parents and my mother in law are still living. All are in their 80’s & 90’s and I am having a hard time watching their health slowly get worse. My heart goes out to you as I know this was a difficult time. Try to remember all the good memories as they outweigh the sad ones! (((Hugs))) ❤️

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  8. Hello Cheryl
    Long time, no write. My apologies. I have been overwhelmed (work, garden, spring plantings, out of town guests etc.)
    Thoughts on this post. Love it as usual. Very heart felt. Made me once again realize how much I miss my mom. When you were putting off reading the note to your mom, was it truly a fear of what you had written, or were you afraid of the memories it would stir? Did you want to drag out the mystery of its contents? Were you tempted to leave it unread, as sort of a last unknown bridge to your shared past?
    Always love a good GWTW quote, though was hoping for “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

    This!!! “If there was an eleventh commandment my Mom would have added thou shall write a thank you note for every gift ever received. “ Your mom was so right! I hope you have instilled this in your offspring.
    Your beautiful post serves as a reminder that if there is something you must say to a loved one, say it now, as you never know when the opportunity will be lost.
    Time is so fleeting….

    “No more time to tell how, this is the season of what,
    Now is the time of returning with our thought jewels polished and gleaming.” Robert Hunter

    Your writing rocks.
    Miss you all. Will see you soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mike, always a treat to find you here in the comments, and the opportunity to enter into your thoughts. No apologies ever. I’m thrilled when you are afforded the time and have the inkling to respond. Can I just say it is good to know I’m not the only one feeling overwhelmed with life! And I have no excuses, I’m retired! I had to go back and reread The Letters, and it hit me just as hard reading about those notes, as it did finding the darn things. I don’t know why but my parents have been hanging out in my thoughts lately? I’ll be driving down the road and suddenly remember how much we all laughed together, despite appearances, my Dad was a really funny guy. We so enjoyed each other’s company and that comes with a plethora of warm memories that make me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Oh how I wish we had more time. I’m sure you have much the same feelings about your mom. And you are right never put off words of affection for our loved ones because tomorrow is not a guarantee. Although I am banking on your visit in July! Can’t wait to see you all, the gang will all be here, everyone is excited to see the Severance’s! Hugs to all, Cheryl

      Liked by 1 person

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