This letter was written by Karen Cook, author of What Girls Learn, ten years after the death of her mother from breast cancer. It is reblogged with permission from Shaun Usher’s wonderful blog, Letters of Note: correspondence deserving of a wider audience.
This letter both moved me and empowered me. I’ve been writing a lot about my own death and my own feelings about it. I have no living children, but there are people who love me. Karen Cook’s letter caused me to think about them for a change – not just my own little self.
The letter is a little long, but entirely worth the few minutes you’ll invest in reading it.
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What time was I born?
When did I walk?
What was my first word?
My body has begun to look like yours. Suddenly I can see you in me. I have so many questions. I look for answers in the air. Listen for your voice. Anticipate. Find meaning in the example of your life. I imagine what you might have said or done. Sometimes I hear answers in the echo of your absence. The notion of mentor is always a little empty for me. Holding out for the hope of you. My identity has taken shape in spite of that absence. There are women I go to for advice. But advice comes from the outside. Knowing, from within. There is so much I don’t know.
What were your secrets?
What was your greatest source of strength?
When did you know you were dying?
I wish I had paid closer attention. The things that really matter you gave me early on—a way of being and loving and imagining. It’s the stuff of daily life that is often more challenging. I step unsure into a world of rules and etiquette, not knowing what is expected in many situations. I am lacking a certain kind of confidence. Decisions and departures are difficult. As are dinner parties. Celebrations and ceremony. Any kind of change. Small things become symbolic. Every object matters—that moth-eaten sweater, those photos. Suddenly I care about your silverware. My memory is an album of missed opportunities. The loss of you lingers.