You know that list you’ve been writing in your head for years? The one that highlights all of the awesome things your Mom/Dad/Grandpa/Grandma/Partner or other special person in your life has taught you? Does said list lead to a day dream of you sitting down somewhere cozy—beside the fire, perhaps—and actually reading it to them?
If you’re anything like me, you have a running mental list of things you are thankful for. Driving a car. A roof over your head. Food on the table. International travel. Yankee candles. Justin’s mini dark chocolate peanut butter cups. (Okay, you get the point.) The list runs the gamut from general to specific. And—like the “life principles” exercise—many items will tie to someone specific. The hang up here is that for any myriad of reasons or excuses, many of us can’t seem to pull those damn words out of our heads and communicate them to the people we love.
The good news is that the care journey has enormous potential to change that. The reason is rooted in our perception of time. Not knowing how many good years we have left with someone drives us to action. You needn’t be at the end of the journey to come to the realization that time is short. That your words matter. That even though you may be at each other’s throats some days, you have a lifetime of good memories behind (and in front of) you.
During my teen years, my mother and I had what I imagine to be a typical mother / teenage daughter relationship. She loved and supported me while applying hard-set boundaries; I challenged those boundaries and did a poor job of communicating my appreciation for her. I loved her fiercely and knew how much of my success could be attributed to her; how much she had sacrificed to raise my sister and I and to help us achieve our dreams. Why couldn’t I just tell her how I felt? What is it about the workings of the mind that preclude us from sharing our emotions? Our gratitude?
It took many years of watching my mother’s health decline before I decided enough was enough. I had to tell her how much I appreciated her—the ways in which I appreciated her.
I’d like to share my list with you—this list I wrote in my head for a decade, willed myself to put to paper, ruminated on for six months and finally (finally!) shared with my mother.
I shared my words via email. I figured this would give her time to read and digest everything I’d had bottled up for years. You may choose a different mode of communication. Whether verbal or handwritten, via mail or email, over the phone or in-person, get those memories to your loved one.
Have someone else read it to them if you’d like. These things are touchy. It can be difficult to open up. To expose your emotions. To be vulnerable. I fought it for years. But guess what?
My mother loved it. She later told me she re-read it ten times. She appreciated my candor and honesty. And my mind felt freer to focus on other things—like starting one for my father.
(Slightly edited for clarity and privacy.)
Subject: Letter to Mom
Shannon Marie Gaydos
Thu, Jan 3, 2013, 9:01 AM
There are a number of things I want you to know but have never found the right time or words to say. I wrote this list out about six months ago in my journal but have been thinking about it for years. The list doesn't follow any type of logical order, and I would like to keep it between you and I if that's ok. Without further ado, I think it’s important that you know:
1. I always liked the notes you left on my pillow, or tucked into my overnight bag when I went Girl Scout camping, even though I rolled my eyes in feigned embarrassment. The notes gave me a sense of security I still needed – one look at your signature heart with the bangs and glasses, smiling at me, and I knew I’d be ok. I especially grew to appreciate the notes in college, when someone else’s parent (or Dad) had to drive me there because it was too far for you to drive. It was your way of coming with me, and the notes helped to assuage the pain I felt every time I had to leave you, sitting on the living room couch waving at me, brave and humble.
2. I have always regretted we didn’t find a way for you to be involved in my move to MSU freshmen year. The divorce was new and the wounds were raw – I sided with Dad during a time you two weren’t really “siding” but more so cooperating for the sake of Jackie and I. You’d been traveling to Jackie’s track meets together and there was no good reason I didn’t include you in the move other than the misconception that you’d give me something else to worry about that day. That, and I was scared to leave you. I don’t know how much you saw through my bravado, but I was still a young girl looking for validation, afraid to walk out too far for fear of falling.
3. I feel extremely fortunate that you involved Jackie and I in so many groups, activities and sports. I know how much you love us.
4. I’m sorry I never opened up to you as a teenager the way you hoped I would. I’ve realized, as I’ve aged, this is more a fault of mine and a part of my personality I need to work on than anything having to do with you, though I’m sure that’s hard to believe. I seem to close myself off to people that care about me the most. That, and I’m easily annoyed and impatient (“like my father”). It’s not an excuse, but an observation. I’m glad we are as close as we are now.
5. Of all the moms I thought were “cool” growing up, none of them remotely compare to you. In fact, most of them raised troubled, directionless children.
6. Our weekend Walden Bookstore and library trips remain among my fondest lifetime memories.
7. As a teenager, I rarely acted out to spite you (though maybe I did to spite Dad). It was more so I felt a desire to free myself from the “confines” of high school existence – to push the envelope. I did stupid things and soured my brain with harmful substances. I’m lucky I had you to push me to succeed as you knew I was born to do, and to love and support me through some tough adolescent time periods.
8. I could not live without the gift of music you’ve given to me. I will cherish your stories, voice, and songs until the day I die. Through music, your spirit will always live with me.
9. While I will never fully understand what happened between you and Dad, I have made peace with the divorce. People grow apart, and I think you both have found happiness through other mediums. And of course – I love you both equally
10. I LOVE YOU AND AM THANKFUL FOR YOU EVERY DAY.
Love always and forever,