Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dear Mom...

This is the letter I wrote in lieu of a eulogy at my mom's funeral. I knew I couldn't get up and speak, as I'd cry so hard that no one would be able to understand what I was saying. Steve and I joked it would be like that scene with Will Ferrell in the phonebooth in "Anchorman," talking about his dog. I decided a letter photocopied would be better, so there was no threat of incoherency.

Dear Mom,

This is a letter I should have written earlier, so you could read it. You would finish it and say, “So you must have thought I did a few things right!” …and I’d laugh and say: “One or two.” Oh, Mom. You did so many things right.

I think of you often during the day. You once told me that kids will eat anything with a toothpick, and you were so right. I’ll add “with ketchup” and pass it along to my children when they’re parents. You taught me that babies love being stroked down the bridge of their noses. Once again…you were right. When I stroke my children’s faces before bed, I can distinctly remember how it felt to be tucked in by you. “Sleepy eyes,” we called it. I felt wrapped in this warmth as I snuggled into sleep, with a comfort only a mom can give.

Some things, much to your chagrin, I tossed off to the side as I grew up. I do wear white after Labor Day, I’m afraid. And, yes…I cut more than 4 pieces of meat at a time. I like mixing my food all up, and you hate that.

I swear now. You roll your eyes and assure Steve you never taught me to talk that way, and then you two smile at each other about my refusal to be lady-like. And eye-rolls aside, I always felt like you loved that streak in me that couldn’t be contained. I got that from you. And I love it about me. You tried to be conventional most times, even if it didn’t always work. And then showed up wearing hot pink pants to the birth of your grandson, which pretty much sums it all up.

And yet, the most important Mom-isms stuck. I write thank you cards. I put a dollar in the Salvation Army box every time I see one. I make dinner for anyone who had a baby or lost a loved one. I learned that from you.

My children will get sick of seeing me at school just like we did with you. You were at everything, even when I begged you to stay home from watching my sport games or spelling bees, in typical teenager form. But you refused to miss anything, and I suppose I never really wanted you to stay home. Remember that time you took a caffeine pill to stay awake during my band concert and still fell asleep? Oh, you hated those band concerts! It took me years to confess that after the first year or two, I basically lip-synced the flute. Thank goodness you found it as funny as I did, in hindsight.

You always tried to be home when we got home from school, and I came to rely on that consistency. If I’d had a bad day, I knew you’d sit at the kitchen table and talk it out no matter how long it took. As a parent, I wonder now if you fretted about getting dinner ready or all the things you needed to do. I never sensed that about you. There was no internal timer going off. You just sat and chatted and listened.

You gave me the love for writing that has underscored everything in my life. If I couldn’t write, I’m not sure what I would do. You read all my stories as a child, even the ones with no plot or climax of the story, and told me how much you loved my writing. What if you had told me I needed more plot? Less description? Perhaps I wouldn’t have writing in me anymore, because it had been criticized away. I really love how you believed in me.

And perhaps the greatest gift you passed on? That you did things. This is no small statement, as you had three children and we all ran in different directions. I never thought anything of the fact that you’d take the whole family to the movies or concerts or three-week road trips in the summer. Now I see how much effort you put in to raising children who loved to do things. How hard it must have been to have three children in the Minnesota winters, and bundling us up to go experience the world. You taught us to experience things. And I now pass that on to my children, and think of you every time I pile the kids in the car to hunt down some new discovery.

You will be missed more than words could possibly express, but you will always be remembered. I’ll tell stories of my mom’s crazy antics, like when you quoted Jesus as saying “Never judge a man until you walk a mile in his shoes.” (Umm…it was Elvis). Your quirky confusions gave us plenty of fodder to tease you, just as my children will no doubt love making fun of me. It’s part of the package. We all love those “Remember that time when Mom…” stories. Like the one about driving back to get your black pants? Classic.

I will think of you every Christmas as I write my Christmas letter. Hang my ornaments. You loved Christmas so much, and it seems tragic and yet meaningful to me that your death is now permanently tied into this season. That every year, I will decorate my tree and think of That Christmas when I lost you. But also, all those other Christmases when you made it magical for us. Your snow village houses. Decorating the tree the day after Thanksgiving. You loved creating those memories.

I love you, Mom. I hope you are at peace. And that you know how loved you are. I’m so proud to be your daughter.

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