I lifted yet another cardboard box filled with memorabilia onto her dining room table. Even though my sister Diane and I knew we were opening our hearts up to more emotional triggers, the job had to be done.
Mom loved to scrapbook. So much so that she had created nearly fifty, (thats right, 50) three-ring binder photo albums over the course of her life, filled to the brim with birthday cards, Family Circle cartoons and scribbled notes like this one from my brother which made us laugh.
"Dear Mom (the great)-
Please wake me up when you get home.
Because I want to tell you something but I haven't decided what to tell you.
As I fished through the items that she had collected, I took my time to read each one closely. What might have seemed insignificant to me, was important enough to save for a future album. There were vintage photos of relatives whose names we will never know, newspaper clippings of her wedding day from the social pages - yellowed, fragile and ready to crumble, and prayers she wanted to remember. Each item had a story or stirred a memory. My kleenex box kept offering me its comfort, as sheet after sheet soaked up my tears. I paused and let the grief flow unbridled for what had been lost. My mother. My sweet mother. How I wished I could hear her voice just once more.
My beautiful mother, Nancy, at age 22 in 1961. She had two children,
and was a model in Chicago. Here she shows off ways to accessorize the "little black dress."
After regaining a bit of my composure, I pushed the kleenex box away and resumed sorting. A few minutes later, I came across a stack of letters, hand-written on school notebook paper. I thumbed through the edges. Sure enough, there was one letter for each of her five children. Looking closer, they were dated 12/25/15, the Christmas before my father had passed. I handed my sister Diane her letter across the table and we each began to read. The tears quickly fell.
I realized right away a previous conversation and knew where these precious notes had come from. In November of 2015, My mother made the very tough decision that she could no longer care for my disabled father in her home. With the support of her five children, she settled him into a skilled nursing facility. It was a very hard adjustment for both of them and Christmas shopping was the last thing on her mind.
"I'll just write you all check." she offered, feeling badly that she did not have the energy to create the perfectly wrapped and bowed packages she had in previous years.
"Mom," I offered, "you know what would mean so much to us kids? A letter. If you could take some time and just write us each a letter, it would mean the world to us. And best of all it will be a gift that keeps on giving every time we read it."
She smiled and got back to making dinner. I secretly really wanted that letter, but thought to myself, she'll just write a check.
Now 6 years later, I had found the five letters that for many unknown reasons, she had never sent. Originally written in black, they were revised in several other colors indicating the time she took and the importance she felt to get them just right. Words were crossed out and updated when she found a more perfect one; arrows redirected thoughts to a more meaningful place; things she wanted to emphasize were repeatedly underlined.
Just when we needed it, our mom's voice had reached out across the ethos to speak the words her children needed so badly to hear. You might think this Christmas gift was delivered too late, but I beg to differ. I think that they were delivered right on time.