While working to publish my late daughter's children's story, Hoofen Floofen Island, I found myself digging through her personal things looking for dates and details. Some of her possessions, stored in old copy paper boxes, are scrawled with "LENA" in black marker. Smaller, more decorative boxes hold special keepsakes. And the most precious items are in a safe.
Regardless of where these items are stored, they are seldom brought out into the light. Many of her things are known so well to me that I open the correct box on the first try when I'm searching for something needed for the book project or when I simply feel like spending time with her in a more tangible way. Today, shortly after finding the missing detail, I stumbled on a letter Lena wrote to me just after her arrival at Stanford University.
When so much of my memory is stained with sorrow, I sometimes neglect to revisit examples of better times. Like this time, when, as a new Freshman far away from her northern Wisconsin home, living with a palm tree outside her window, she took some time to write her mom. Lena loved hand writing letters on beautiful stationery with colored ink. This letter was exactly that. I feel closest to her when reading her letters. I hear her voice.
I guess I don't have anything profound to say. I just thought I'd jot a quick note to go along with this lovely bill. It was really cold here today! Only yesterday we were contemplating when the change in weather would occur. We must have jinxed ourselves.
I hope everything is well with you. How is the distance factor between you and your honey? I think distance sucks! I miss people at home.
For the first time in my life, though, I come home from class, and when someone asks about my day, I answer, "I had an excellent day today!" And what's even more genuine about that answer is the fact that I am smiling inside. It used to take a lot for me to be able to say that I had a good day. Stress, relationship problems, and general negativity played into my unhappiness.
Here I have found a new happiness. A happiness that comes from those around me, the positive vibes of the campus, but most importantly a sense of accomplishment. To know that every day, every hour that I spend here leads me one step closer to my goals, to my future and most of all to my dreams.
I thought dreams were the hopeful components of a mind that were never or rarely destined to come true. I realized that this place was my dream. This was all I wanted out of my young life. I knew it was my path but doubted I'd have the pleasure of walking it. Why I am here, I still don't know. Is it because I am academically gifted, is it God's grace or is it fate? Can I take full credit or is there some unforeseen force driving me? Ah, the many questions of a college freshman. A college freshman who needs to get to the post office and head to class.
I love you, Mom. I remember telling you that you were the prettiest woman in the world when I was little. I just thought I'd let you know that the important things never change. Take care, be strong and love your life but love yourself also. You are successful, intelligent, and have the heart of ten women. Marvel at this, yet be humbled knowing that your search for truth and happiness is inevitable and certain. You will find what it is you want of life because you deserve it more than anyone I know.
I love, miss, and thank you.
Reading that letter brought bittersweet tears just as it did when I first received it. Reading Lena's letters is like a drug. It's addicting. I read it again and then another. She made a point to keep other letters "low key" so I wouldn't cry again. Apparently, I'd let on how her letters were affecting me. I read yet another. It was an email actually, printed on plain white paper.
She'd just used the sandwich technique on me.
Her opening paragraph of general pleasantries prefaced a stinging appraisal of my parental failures and unacceptable behavior during a recent family reunion we had hosted. She finished the email with questions and decisions we needed to make about her college life. She'd just used the sandwich technique on me. You know, such as when you want to give someone bad news, but you don't want to crush them completely.
The stress of entertaining and feeding a crowd had dropped her "center of my world" status down several rungs on the family ladder that day. I called her names in the presence of several family members. Very, very not cool. She helped me understand how badly this hurt her and how my hurtful words were actually descriptive of myself. Yes, she was that astute.
That felt more heartbreaking than anything.
If I had responded back then, it was not attached to this email. And that felt more heartbreaking than anything. I can only hope that, sixteen years ago, I picked up the damn telephone to apologize. I do not remember. Therefore, at that moment, I responded loudly, through my sobbing, "I'm so sorry! I am so sorry!" Too little too late? Reminiscent of the saying "my mind is full of everything I never said" yet I have a feeling she heard me. Our little Lena, with the big personality, who loved fiercely, who put her depth of human understanding to use, and took crap from no one. Not even, or perhaps most especially, from her mother.
Moving within my truth.
I went looking for a detail to mark off the checklist and instead found a treasure of love and emotion tucked in that box. I feel grateful to have been chosen as her mother, that these letters have stood the test of time and for how they speak to me still. Lena motivates me to love better, to accept our human failures, and to continue sharing my experience of life after loss.
It was just what I needed today to keep me moving within my truth.
When all that's left seems to be regret, what do you do? Is forgiving ourselves enough? How does one compensate for past wrongs?
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