Monday, December 19, 2005

One last gift to her

This Christmas I planned on giving my mother a letter expressing my deep love and respect for her. At 78, she did not have a large need for material gifts. Words on paper seemed to be more appropriate for both of us. I’ve always written deep feelings in the cards I’ve given her over the years.

This is the letter I would've given to her on Christmas...I chose to read it to her instead at her memorial service.

Dear Mom,

I want to give you the gift of gratitude this Christmas. This letter will be an attempt to show you how much I appreciate you.

You are such a positive role model to me – as a mother, a wife and a woman. I’d like to share some memories with you that are examples of the qualities I most admire in you.

As a child, I remember your willingness and drive to expose Mark and me to all types of experiences. When we first moved to Minnesota, you made sure we had ice skating lessons. This was the beginning of many activities that you encouraged; dance, gymnastics, Indian Princesses, Camp Fire Girls, softball, tennis, golf, art classes, swimming lessons, clarinet lessons, skiing and so on. We were taken to the Children’s Theater, Theater in the Round and various museums throughout our youth. To this day, I have been shaped by the multitude of experiences I had as a child.

I am an extremely sentimental person and I truly believe it is because of the exposure we had to your parents and relatives and their German heritage. Instilled in me is a pride in a background that I’ve never really lived in. Your reverence for family heritage spilled over onto me. This is probably why I have so much of your parent’s furniture in my home and keep most of the drawings my children make each day. I love being surrounded by items that have deep meaning.

As I became a student, I always knew how important education was to you. Our weekly trips to the library, when I was in elementary school, are etched in my mind. Remember your rule? We were only allowed to check out as many books as we could carry. You would also check out some books – mysteries were usually your favorite. After we would get home from the library, I would run in my room and dive into some of my books right away. You usually waited till nightfall. I have vivid memories of you sitting in bed reading. Television viewing was restricted to an hour a day for many years so that homework and reading were kept in the forefront. Reading was an integral part of our life.

You instilled in me a will to want to be successful. Giving my all to my school work and music were expected. I used to resent the thirty minutes you required me to practice my clarinet daily, but I wanted the reward. Private lessons would be dropped if I didn’t fulfill this expectation. Now as a parent, I can only hope that my children will discipline themselves for a reward that isn’t electronic or filled with sugar. You gave me the greatest gift – the drive to do my best at any task or in any situation.

As the figurative head of our household, your strength was something I never questioned. I have always seen you as independent and determined with many educational and career accomplishments. It was understood that I would go to college, get a career and maybe – somewhere along the way – get married. Looking for a husband and becoming a mother were never priorities to me and I believe that is because of you. Fulfilling my own goals first was your unspoken mantra. You were single longer than most in your era, but you never settled for just anyone. You taught me that marriage wasn’t a goal. It was merely something that occurred along the way. I remember you telling me once or twice that you had plenty of proposals over the years, but you were waiting for the right man at the right time. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been back in the fifties. I have always been so proud of you for this.

Your loyalty to me is another asset that I deeply appreciate. Through all the struggles I’ve been through, you and Dad have stood by me. Each mistake I made was met with your frustration, but also with a steadfast love behind it. My strongest memory of this was when I divorced. I opened up to you with details that were so painful and yet you accepted me with open arms. As I struggled with my own self esteem and acceptance, you guided me through the healing. I can even remember when you directed me to church to get a cassette of one of Arthur’s sermons on “grace”. You knew what I needed to hear. You’ve stuck with me through ups and downs and never once have I doubted that you would not support my decisions 100%. You always present your opinion, but if I decide to go in a different direction, you stop expressing your thoughts and just encourage me through the journey.

Another trait you passed down to me was a respect for money. Your bookkeeping skills are phenomenal. I love telling my friends that you can account for every dime you have spent. If I want to know how much you spent on the kids for Christmas last year, I know you’ll tell me to go get your books – you’ll look it up. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit your sense of organization and attention to detail. I don’t keep meticulous records, and my house and desk are a nightmare most of the time, but I do try to incorporate your values in this area into my life whenever I can. Just ask Chris, I often have a hard time opening my wallet.

Even though you appreciate the value of a dollar, the dichotomy of this is that you taught me how important it is to surround yourself with things of high quality. My earliest memory of this was shoes. You always insisted that we have good shoes – we weren’t allowed to buy any from a discount store. Our house was always decorated with the help of interior designers and you always dressed with attention to detail. When I was in eighth grade, my friend and I went downtown a few times on the city bus to bum around and buy chocolate stars at Woolworth’s. I distinctly remember that you insisted that I dress up for these trips. This made going downtown on the bus an event, not just an outing. You are the person who taught me how important it is to dress for success. I’ve always been proud of your great sense of style and taste.

These last seven years introduced me to a different side of you. Watching you fight cancer with such a positive attitude is so inspiring. Through the hair loss, intense fatigue and weekly chemo appointments, you never complain. It’s just a fact of life. Something you need to do – almost like a daily chore. You never allow anyone to dwell on the negatives associated with this illness. I quote you all the time to my students, “What you focus on is what you get.” Even though you’re in bed, you continue to be optimistic. (She would always say that she was in perfect health except for the cancer. “I don’t have any heart problems or arthritis, etc. I feel like I’m just sick – a little under the weather – not suffering from cancer.” This attitude continued till the end. In her diary, on the day before Thanksgiving just three weeks ago, she wrote, “Working on my thymus exercises (positive imagery meditations) 3 times a day and am feeling better – the cancer must be erased.”)

One of the greatest attributes I love about you, though, is your non-judgmental attitude. You are interested in people first, not their skin color, religion, sexual orientation or class. It took me until I was in my twenties to really realize this. Remember when I rented a room with that marketing Vice President in Uptown? She was very eccentric with lots of different ideas. You embraced that. I couldn’t believe it when I told you that she read Tarot cards and you wanted her to read your cards. I was nervous because of the diversity of her friends. I didn’t want you to be uncomfortable. You laughed out loud, after I gingerly told you that most of the men who would be at our house were homosexuals. “Why would I care?” you said. I doubt you ever realized how eye opening that moment was for me.

Finally, I need you to know that it has been an honor to be your daughter these past forty one years. You are an amazing woman. Your integrity, intelligence, loyalty and elegant grace exude from you. I was so lucky to be born into this home.

I love you more each day, Carol

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