First, let me apologize for taking so long to write. It’s been 48 years since you left us. You, just 29, and me, just three and a half. This letter is long overdue.
I’m 51 now. It’s not a ripe old age but I’m certainly no spring chicken. I’m sorry that you never got to know what 51 was all about. I LOVE IT. Honestly, it took me until my mid-forties to get a handle on myself. Funny, I’ve always thought of you as a grown-up, but in hindsight, you probably would have done a whole lot more growing up if you’d been given half the chance.
I’m really sorry you died.
I’ve listened to you sing on tape and you had a beautiful voice. I’ve seen photographs of you in your bikini and you had a gorgeous figure. You rocked a beehive on your wedding day and you looked incredibly elegant when you smoked. People say I walk and talk like you. That we share the same laugh and that you laughed often. But I don’t have a whole lot more to go on than that.
I wish you weren’t a stranger.
Mark remembers you. He was eight when you passed away. Sometimes I envy the fact that he has his memory to go on. Other times, though, I think I got off lucky. Especially when it comes to Mimi. She married dad a couple of years after you passed. The poor thing went from zero kids to two kids over the course of a registry office wedding and a few finger sandwiches. I was young and I welcomed her with open arms. Despite becoming motherless when you passed, I have never felt motherless, and I’m thankful for that.
They say you left a gap.
Over the years, therapists tried to get me talking about the massive gap you’d left in my life, but I couldn’t tap into it. For a while, I didn’t believe them. I truly thought they were looking for something that simply wasn’t there. Then I had Anna.
As I reflected on the bond she and I shared by the time she was three years old, I thought about you a lot. About the bond you and I must have shared and about the gap you must have left, even though I could never quite put my finger on it. Mostly, though, I thought about how hard it must have been for you to know that you were going to leave me. Leave us.
I so wish that you had left me a letter.
I put myself in your shoes and imagined writing a love letter to Anna, so that if she, like me, ever had to look into the corners of her mind for memories of her mother, she would have no doubt that I had really existed and that I loved her. I tried to feel how you must have felt, knowing that you wouldn’t be able to see your role through to the end. To be a dying mom, I thought, might actually be harder than being the daughter of a mom who’s died. But if that was your experience, I shall never know because the letter never came.
When I eventually asked Dad why you hadn’t left a note, he said you hadn’t actually known you were dying. Your hospital records concurred that you had in fact never been told you had cancer. Your mother wouldn’t allow it. She was determined to keep you hopeful to the very end.
While you must have eventually realized your time had come, I take comfort in believing that you knew it just minutes or hours – not weeks or months – before you passed and that those painful contemplations you must have had around leaving us were short-lived. Just like you.
Love you always, Mom.
Your daughter, Viv xo
My mother passed away from breast cancer and for years I lived in fear that the same fate would befall me. Thankfully, I don’t have a story to tell about living with cancer, but I did write a few words about living without it.
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