Author's Note: A little over two years ago, I received word my mother was dying, so I wrote this letter. It was a letter she was never able to read, but it helped me through a difficult time. Sadly, we often wait too long to tell a parent what they mean to us. But somehow, I think she knew. |
The Last Letter
By Nancy Julien Kopp
I’ve been writing a letter to you every week for over forty years now, and until the last couple of years, you returned the favor. Those missives created an increasingly strong bond between mother and daughter, a time to chat about the everyday activities in our lives but also a way to remain close, despite the miles between us, and a time to share a laugh over some silly thing.
I learned only yesterday that your days left with us are short in number. You no longer recognize your son or his wife, who spend countless hours at your bedside, and who keep the rest of the family informed of your condition. They have read my letters to you the past several months for you were no longer able to see well enough to do so yourself. I continued to write about your grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the weather, your longtime favorite sport of football, politics and more. We could talk about anything and laugh at things others might not find humorous at all. For a long time now, the letters have all come from me, and I miss your comments and news of your own in a return message.
That brings me to my reason for writing today. It’s long past time to say thanks for being my mother for 65-plus years, for playing a major role in my life, for being an example of what motherhood is all about.
You never had a very good relationship with your own mother. Your first eleven years were spent in a small Iowa coal mining town. Then you suddenly were forced to make a traumatic move to Chicago. Your mother never told you until you arrived in the big city that it was not a visit, after all. She’d left your dad and fled with you to begin a new life, a life you didn’t want. You liked being known as the little girl everyone in town knew—the one who gets in trouble all the time. That small mining town had been your world, and your father served as your knight in shining armor and your buddy. You often trekked to the mine to meet him at the end of his shift so he’d have company on the walk home.
Your teen years in Chicago couldn’t have been easy ones as you tried to keep up with school and help your mother in the neighborhood bakery business she’d started in the Depression years. Education came to an end for you after only one year in high school. The small bakery became your world. Even so, you managed to find time to date a lot of boys before you eloped with my dad and started the next phase of your life.
You kept the marriage a secret for six weeks until your mother guessed what you’d done. She set her mouth in a firm line and eyes blazing, she told you to go live with your husband. So, off you went to spend the next 57 years with a man who adored you but feared losing you so much that he held on too hard and nearly smothered you.
You raised four children in a two-bedroom apartment, carried laundry and groceries up and down three flights of stairs, made a big deal out of our birthdays, and created special Christmases with meager amounts of cash. You dealt with a teen-ager and an infant at the same time since your babies were born over sixteen years. You lived with a man who was controlling, verbally abusive and jealous of any friends you made. Through it all, your sense of humor and zest for life prevailed, and you loved your husband for all the good qualities he possessed rather than dwell on the bad ones. You taught me to concentrate on the positives of life.
You supported me when I wanted to go to college. No one in our entire family had pursued higher education. You were unsure of allowing a girl to do such an unheard of thing, especially when three boys coming behind me needed an education, too. But between us, we found a way. Thanks for being my champion then and once again when I wanted to strike out for California after graduation. Dad exploded, but you quietly stood behind me and gave me strength to make a compromise. I’d stay in Illinois but live on my own.
I, too, had four children but had to live through the heartache of birth defects and the death of two of them. You grieved for me and with me during those trying years. It wasn’t until my own daughter gave birth that I realized how deeply you felt my losses. Thanks for your support and your prayers, Mom. I tried so hard to be independent and move through my grief without help, but those weekly letters from you were a beacon of light in a time of darkness.
Your pride knew no bounds as each of your four children carved a career, married, and gave you grandchildren. Though we were spread across the country, letters, phone calls and holiday visits shortened the distance time and again.
When Dad passed away, you learned to live on your own and even came to like it in many respects. Medical problems and the onset of age-related infirmities made it necessary for you to live with one of your children. It must have been difficult to decide which one would be best. The move to a southern state took you even farther from me, so our visits were fewer, but the letters still moved back and forth weekly for a couple of years.
Now, I’ve written the last letter, a final chapter. The letters will cease, but memories to savor over a cup of tea or on a quiet walk will remain mine forever. One final wish for you Mom—may your journey be quick and peaceful.
With my love,