Five years ago today, my mom passed away from lung cancer. It was a traumatic experience but I consider myself lucky to have been surrounded by absolutely saintly people.
A few months before she passed away, Christina tasked me with writing a thank you note for a quilt she made for Christopher (he was 10 months old when she died). By the time I gave it to her, the cancer had affected her motor skills and eyesight, so reading a letter was impossible. I did not have the composure to read it, so Annette Barbier, one of her closest friends, was able to read it to her.
Anyway, this is a little vulnerable to put this on my blog, it is highly personal, but I am posting it to encourage readers not to wait until the last minute. If there is someone in your life that you are thankful for, tell them today.
A few months ago, Christina tasked me with writing a thank-you note for several of your shower gifts, including the quilt. While a simple thank-you would have sufficed, I wanted something more comprehensive that expressed my appreciation for all you have done for me, for us, beyond the wonderful gifts you gave. I quickly found that I had gotten in over my head – how can you thank a mother for everything she has ever done for you?
Dad hung the print in your bedroom that says, “Preach the Gospel Always. When necessary, use words.” I think for you, this could be modified to, “Say ‘I love you’ always. When necessary, use words.” Through things both big and small, your love is absolute and there are few things I treasure more. You have always been there.
Like most children, I did not begin to appreciate all you did for me growing up. Every day you said “I love you” through your actions, and I was not mature enough to understand. I took for granted all the hours you spent driving me to get allergy shots. All the hours you spent in hospitals with me with ear infections. All the baseball and soccer and swimming practices you shuttled me to, and all the games you watched. I didn’t appreciate all the Cub Scout and Boy Scout meetings and camp-outs you drove me to. I didn’t appreciate all the money that went into all these activities. I didn’t appreciate all the time you spent with me to do well in school. I still remember the trials of me trying to memorize multiplication and the countless nights you spent drilling me. While I may not have appreciated the gift of time you gave me then, I knew that you were always there.
Soon into my freshman year at St. Edward’s University, I came to realize what it took for you and dad to put me through school. You could have moved into a larger house, gone on more vacations, driven nicer cars, and enjoyed life just a little more — but you chose to put me through the school of my choice. Once again, you were saying, “I love you” in subtle ways. The only way I knew to say ‘thank you’ was to get good grades, and graduated with an A average. To this day I credit my education at St. Edward’s for many of my successes and I couldn’t have done it without you. This was but one of many many sacrifices you made for your kids to give us the foundations to excel.
Often through sheer perseverance, you molded me into a man. Over the years, you taught me the importance of a good handshake. The importance of eye contact. The importance of a promise and following up on your word. The importance of being on time. The importance of showing respect for people above and below you. That all actions have consequences. You taught me the importance of perseverance. You taught me how to be strong and tough. You taught me that it isn’t the number of times you are knocked down, but how many times you get up. You taught me my faith.
Back in my college and immediate post-college days, I took full credit for all the gifts you gave to me throughout my life. I would say things like, “I worked hard to get good grades in school,” “I made good choices in life,” “I kept out of trouble,” etc., etc. This narrow focus was the foundation of my political convictions. The key word in all of this was “I”. But what I eventually came to realize that all these attributes are the result of good parenting. Sure I have worked hard and made good choices, but it was largely (if not entirely) because of the values that you instilled in me. You gave me a vast set of tools that allows me to accomplish anything that I want. Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have been able to see further than others, it is only because I stood on the shoulders of giants.” You dedicated your life, every hour of every day of every year of your existence, to shaping and molding three children into adults. If I have been able to build a great family and do well in my career, it is only because I stood on the shoulders of giants.
Being a mom never ends. I still hear you say “I love you” everywhere. I see it in the “Adoption Is An Option” bumper sticker on your car. I see it in the way you look at me. I hear it in your voice when we talk on the phone. Even in a time when you should be thinking about yourself, you are caring for your children.
As a new parent, I have grown a new appreciating for the love you have for us kids. From the moment a baby is brought home, your universe starts to revolve around them. Whatever you want or need is often secondary to a baby’s immediate needs. To understand what you went through for us kids only fills me with a deeper sense of love and gratitude.
There are no words that exist that could begin to say ‘thank you’ for all you have done, for your vocation of being a mom. The best I can do is to live in a way that makes you proud, and to raise Christopher in a way that reflects the values you gave me.
Mom — with all of my heart, with all of my being, I love you. Thanks for dedicating your life to us.
PS: About the quilt and other gifts, thank you so much. I cannot tell you how important it was to me that Christopher had one of your quilts. As I walk into his room and see him wrapped in your quilt, the symbolism does not go unnoticed. That quilt is a symbol of your love. When I see him in the morning, you are not there, but he is wrapped in your love. This is something that will be true tomorrow, next month, next year, and next decade.
[NOTE: In 2015, five years later, Christopher still goes to bed every night wrapped in her quilt.]