Sunday, May 9, 2010

Dear Mom...

Happy Mother’s Day.

It’s hard to believe how much time has passed since you’ve been gone. Ten years this October. It’s gone by in a blink. So much has changed. I finally got married again. He’s a great guy. You’d really like him. We’ve been married going on eight years now. Can you believe it? I can’t.

We started dating as his own mother was dying of cancer. Maybe he sensed I understood what it was like to lose one’s mother. Even if—maybe especially if—that relationship was complicated. Theirs was. So was ours. But I don’t need to tell you that.

If I have any regrets where you are concerned, it would have to be that I never got to say my amends to you before you died.

I have to say “before you died,” because I did do an amends of sorts.

I had you in my closet, so my Al-Anon sponsor… Did I mentioned that I’ve been going to Al-Anon?… Anyway, my sponsor teased me that I wouldn’t have to do a graveside amends, but I had to take you out of the closet and integrate you into my life. She said I had always kept you in the closet, both in life and in death, and it was time to release you.

She was right, of course.

I was good at holding grudges, and I held mine against you for a long time. I never told you that. I tried my best on Mother’s Day’s and Christmases and other occasions, but I’m sure you knew. I withheld my love.

In your last years, I could see that you loved me, and that you were trying. I thought, “too little, too late.”

I wondered about our mother line. I was having trouble with my own daughter by then. I loved her—still love her—more than words can express, yet she seemed to hate me. I wondered if it were a curse of our family. That we were doomed to love our children and be hated in return.

I know you felt guilty when your own mother died because you weren’t sorry she was dead. You cried a lot about it. I didn’t know until after you had passed that you had refused to go to her funeral, but Uncle Bob insisted and paid for your ticket. Aunt Cleo told me that.

I called her to see if she could fill in some blanks. At some point, I realized I had all these questions, and no one to ask. I don’t even know how you met my dad or why you loved him. I tried to report my life as if I were doing research for a story. I remember you always called Bob and Cleo when you were upset. Or, as Cleo put it, when you were “in your cups.” I had no idea she was a teetotaler. And so judgmental! But there you are.

So you always talked to Bob, not Cleo. And now he’s dead, too.

So is your college roommate, Ann. I was sorry to hear that. She was so very kind to include us in all her family’s Thanksgivings.

So much is lost. I did find some things though. The letter you wrote to your friend, the attorney, to see if you might get custody of me back from Granny. You sounded so hopeful. I read that letter and wanted us to succeed. I believed we could!

There were some letters between you and Granny that told me a lot about both of you. And adoption papers from when Roly adopted me. I have to tell you, some of that stuff made my blood run cold. That a man with his arrest record could be considered a fit parent?

I can see how you could have been blinded by your feelings for him. But the courts? I have to say I just don’t get it. And, of course, I don’t need to remind you how that ended.

But why didn’t you say what happened to me when you divorced him. I know it was your back-up plan. I know that because you took me to court with you, just in case. But he had visitation rights. And he used them, at least once, when you weren’t home. When I saw that, I didn’t understand how you failed to protect me.

But then I got into Al-Anon and everything changed. When I did my fourth step, all those things were there, of course. But these things were overwhelmed by all the loving things you did for me. Even Roly. I could see all the ways he tried to be a loving father. It was only after his disease progressed that things got so bad.

Remember the trip to the Grand Canyon? And the trip we all took to Disneyland? I look at the picture of us in the teacups together. You looked so young in your cats’ eye glasses. We looked like any mother and daughter on the face of the planet. So utterly normal.

Or how about that check you sent me when I was having so much trouble with my daughter? I remember I stood at the mailbox and cried with gratitude.

Anyway, I understood, finally, that you were doing the best you could. I always thought of you as an alcoholic. What I didn’t see was that, even more, you were an untreated Al-Anon. You had been fighting for your life your whole life. You couldn’t give me what I needed because you were fighting to keep your head above water. Just as I did with my daughter.

I see that now. I see my part in everything. I know that I didn’t cause my daughter’s disease, can’t cure it, can’t control it. She comes by it honestly. It runs like a river through both sides of my family. In a way, she didn’t have a chance. But my disease affected her as she was growing up just as yours affected me. That was my part.

I have made my amends to her. But beyond that there’s little I can do. I have to leave her to the other alcoholics/addicts and tend to those I can help, other Al-Anons. There is something I’ve been considering as a living amends: becoming an Alateen sponsor. I can’t go back in time and help my daughter but maybe I can be a positive influence in someone else’s life. Isn’t that a nice idea? I’ve been praying about it.

Meanwhile, I said at the beginning of this letter that I have invited you into my life. You now reside in a lovely Indian pot in the middle of the living room. No one knows you are there, but I think of you at least a dozen times a day, each time I walk by. There is one more thing I plan to do. Remember that trip we were going to take to Michigan so I could see where you grew up? We’re going to do it. I’m going to take you there, then I’m going to set you free.

I love you. I can say that now and mean it, really mean it, from the bottom of my heart.




  1. Thanks for sharing here. It amazes me how similar all our stories are, yet different. My mom has been gone 2 years, and our relationship was "complicated". I am 56 and finally in Al-Anon. So glad I'm here.

  2. Wow. Powerful. So personal and yet we all share some of it too. There is just so much of my past in your letter that I won't speak of my feelings. I want your letter to be your cleansing words to your mom. Hugs to you, sis. Big dear hugs.

  3. That was beautiful. Really. It really touched me. Someday I am going to be in a similar position with my own mom and figuring out how to make peace with the relationship we have had.

  4. Wow, what a moving letter, and wonderful telling of your life and relationship.

    I know she is smiling.

  5. Kathy, thanks for sharing and being so very open about this so very important and primal relation we have with our mothers. However just because it is the first relation doesnt necesaary means it is the best, or growing or fullfilling, I had to learn that love is not always enough and not everyone bothers to do what is necessary. I draw strength and inspirtaion from your letter, seing your effort and compassion in it. Love from my heart to yours. Happy Mothers Day

  6. Kathy,
    Thanks for sharing with us such a beautiful letter. It really touched my heart and so do you.

    Happy Mothers Day


  7. Your letter is so compelling and beautifully written. Thank you for sharing. Blessings.

  8. What a beautiful letter!! Hope you had a nice day!1

  9. Such a powerful and touching letter. I was especially moved that you invited her into your life and living room. I hope you had a peaceful Mother's Day Kathy.

  10. That was so beautiful Kathy it brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing, your honesty about yourself and your past. The way you're traveling on your journey is so refreshing.

  11. I chose to make my amends to my (departed) mother on Mother's Day several years ago. It was wonderfully freeing.

  12. So moving, Kathy

  13. I think that the understanding reached about others who we have resentments toward is nothing short of miraculous. I saw how others, including my parents, did the best that they knew how, given their own problems. I don't think that anyone comes through this life unscathed--there is always baggage from the generation before and then we pick up other baggage along the way. Great post.