Home > Death, Family, Love, Music, Parenting > Dear Mom

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

I still have two of your voicemails.

Hello, farewell

Those voicemails riled me up when you left them. Marry that sweet man of yours! you told me. You loved Anthony the moment you met him. And why wouldn’t you? He exudes loving patience, something you had so little opportunity to experience in your life.

Just drive to Vegas and marry him! you followed up, in your living room, on the phone, in your voicemails. It’s really not that far, and you’ll be glad you did! Even if he’s bad at finances. What couple doesn’t argue over money?

I grumbled that I’d stop taking your calls if you kept trying to push marriage on me. You knew that wasn’t what I wanted. I’d hid under the table as your own husband beat you black and blue. I’d heard your screams as you tried to keep him from hurting my siblings and me, too. I’d absorbed every single word of blame others spoke not only when you tried to leave, but afterward, too:

You should’ve left sooner!
You should never have left!
He wouldn’t have beat you if you’d been a better wife!

I never wanted that. Never. And isn’t abstinence the best protection? Never marry and there’s no need for escape.

That was the idea. But then, the idea crumbled little by little in the face of my reality: that I had a partner who sometimes felt like another child, but more often was my rock. My sounding board. My comfort.

I had to say “yes” when he asked the second time. I wasn’t saying “yes” to your marriage, or your husband, but “yes” to a lifetime with a man who guides by partnership, not force. I wasn’t saying “yes” to your pushing, but to him. All of him, for the rest of my life.

"There was remarkably little crying up until I saw my godmom. When she drove past, I didn't see her facial features clearly, but I knew it was her by the look of love on her face. Most of my crying that day had to do with her, in a really, really sweet way. She was there when I was born, through all the life events since, and the love emanates from her in a way I think you can see by looking at this picture. I could feel her and my mom in her, and having her there . . . it was little me and adult me all at once, all wrapped up in endless love."

And yet, when I got married, my “yes” to him felt a little like a “yes” to you, too. I chose your best friend to give me away. I felt you with us as I stood in the sunshine and prepared to say yes, yes, yes. I wept, but they were tears of yes. Wholehearted, unabashed yes.

As I celebrated my first anniversary earlier this month, I paused to look at your voicemails. I didn’t listen to them. I didn’t need to. But I did wish I could return them. I wished I could call you back and tell you, “I did it, Mom. I married him. You were right all along.” I wanted to tell you everything I’ve learned over the last year, and ask you about everything I still don’t understand. I knew I couldn’t. You don’t have a phone or a phone number anymore.

I also knew I’d be writing you a letter soon. What I’d say, I didn’t know, but I knew I had to tell you whatever was in my heart when I sat down to write it.

I didn’t know what I’d write until opened the package Madeline sent me this morning. One small box was a birthday present for me; the other, a belated birthday present for Li’l D.

bravestMadeline sent me a tape. Specifically, she sent me a compilation tape I’d made in August 1995. I quickly tried to calculate where I would have been when I made it. I would have been sixteen, newly graduated from high school, and living–briefly–back at your house. You’d have sung certain songs with me and shaken your head at others. “Is this music?” you’d have asked, not meanly, nor judgingly, just trying to keep me close with open conversation as I tried to pull away further. Faster.

Li’l D opened his present as I remembered sixteen. Madeline had sent him a Little Golden Book. You loved those books more than any of the countless others you brought home in my childhood, telling me and my siblings that knowledge would bring us freedom. It would be our key out of poverty.

“Read it to me, Mama!” Li’l D shouted. “Read it, please!” I told him I would, but that I wanted to start my tape first.

“How do you play it?” he asked. I showed him. We paused, then gazed at the tape player in mutual anticipation.

Tracy Chapman’s “She’s Got Her Ticket” filled the room, and you were in its notes, its wistfulness, its dream of something better on the other side of a plane ride. I stood with my son and felt you in its notes, but also with you in your own living room, where Tracy Chapman once played incessantly.

Two months ago, Li’l D heard her for the first time. Sure, we’d played her before, but it was never more than background noise to Li’l D. This time, Li’l D loved her. He asked Anthony all kinds of questions about her, starting with one you often fielded from me: “Is this really a girl? No, really?”


For days he only wanted to listen to her. “More Tracy Chapman, please!” he’d chant. “More, more, more!” And, oh! I could feel you smiling at the goodness of my child, your grandchild, requesting this music you’d have lovingly shared with him.

Back in today, I’d promised Li’l D a book. After I’d settled onto our new rug, he nestled himself into my lap and helped me hoist his little brother into his lap. We read his new book nestled together just like that, with Tracy crooning in the background.

I read through tears. Like on my wedding day, they were tears of yes. Yes, you found your ticket. Yes, you flew away. Yes, I feel you here anyway, in every tear, every laugh, every snuggle with my children. I feel you especially profoundly today, our shared birthday. I am now 36. You would have turned 57 today, if only you hadn’t stopped breathing at 52.

I wasn’t sold on kids. I wasn’t dead set against them the way I was against marriage, but didn’t really see a place for them in my life. There on the rug today, reading a Little Golden Book to my two little boys, I thanked my lucky stars for the millionth time that God laughs when people plan.

These boys, this husband, this life, none of it was what I envisioned for myself. You‘d envisioned it for me and it irritated me.

But it’s better than anything–everything–I’d envisioned. Better than money, better than power, better than fame.

I hold these boys in my arms every day. I feel your arms around me when I hold them.

thunder thighs sgI feel your heart, your smile, your love. I say thanks for Thunder Thighs, my favorite superhero.

You always begged me not to write about you. You thought I’d write about how you beat my siblings and me, how you yelled at us, how you could barely feed us and only kept us in a home by selling other people’s trash. I do write about these things, because they’re part of you. But they’re a small part, so enormously insignificant compared to your laughter, your love, your lessons in forgiveness, our birthday trips to Farrell’s and Pietro’s. I wish I’d written more about you in your life, so you could have seen how greatly your loving acts overshadowed your lost and tired ones. I wish I could’ve started writing sooner, or that you could’ve lived longer to see your love through my eyes.

I wish you could’ve heard that sweet man of mine talking Tracy Chapman with Li’l D. But, you know, it kinda feels okay that you couldn’t hear with your own ears, because you are in my heart, in my footsteps, in my snuggles with my sons every day, and I am happy to keep listening for you. To keep loving for you.

To keep reading Little Golden Books. To try forgiving. To listen to Tracy Chapman and be thankful, so thankful, for the gift of taking you with me.

Happy birthday, Mom.

On our birthday and always,
I am alit by–and with–your love.

mom on mantel

  1. October 30, 2014 at 10:49 am


    • October 30, 2014 at 11:04 am

      Thank you! ♥ It’s so uplifting to feel her instead of the absence of her, like I did the first couple of years. 🙂

      • November 4, 2014 at 6:06 pm

        I thought it was a lil nice letter to mum from a “teenager”. Read and re-read to realize tears are droppjng. You make me thankful for what I received from my Mother and treasured her for the rest of my life. Love you and your mom and your beautiful story. Thanks. God bless you. (I rewrite it coz smt is wrong with my comment. It isnt showed up)

        • December 14, 2016 at 7:54 pm

          Thank you so much. I appreciate your kind words, and love so much how you recognize the blessings in/from your mother.

    • December 14, 2016 at 7:53 pm

      Revisiting this tonight and just wanted to say … I’m so glad yours is the first comment here. ♥

      • December 14, 2016 at 8:12 pm

        Wow! I’ve been following you for a long, long time! 😉 It is still a very beautiful post❤️.

  2. October 30, 2014 at 11:15 am

    So beautiful. I so love the open-hearted way you share your life through your writing.

    • October 30, 2014 at 11:18 am

      Thank you. Sometimes I think about how my mom used to tell everyone everything in the check-out line, and how it might be fun to write a post about how I’ve got her beat on the oversharing front, thanks to blogging. 🙂 It’s fun to imagine what might have been had she trusted computers–and her spelling!–a little more!

  3. October 30, 2014 at 11:39 am

    This is amazing, Deb. I have no doubt your mother is proud, and smiling down on you.

    • October 30, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      I can’t really explain why, but this comment made me cry. “Yes” tears, not “no” ones, of course. I feel it today. I do. Thank you.

  4. nicciattfield
    October 30, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    Such a beautiful, moving post! I too so love it that God laughs at our plans. But this post radiates warmth and kindness, spreading compassion and love into the world. I’m so grateful I got to read it.

    • October 30, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      I was so determined to be stoic growing up that it sometimes makes me chuckle how often I cry now. Today I’m doing a lot of it (like reading this comment) and just feeling so amazed for the opportunity to be here, and to live my mom’s dream her kids have it better than she did. Part of that dream is the community I experience. Thank you so much for your part in that.

  5. 18mitzvot
    October 30, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    So beautiful that it made me cry. Thanks for sharing.

  6. October 30, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    That made me cry. So lovely.

    • October 31, 2014 at 8:45 am

      I wouldn’t usually say “glad to hear it,” but in this case, I am glad to hear it. Thank you!

  7. October 30, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Absolutely beautiful.
    Oh, the tears!
    I bet she couldn’t be more proud of you.

  8. Jen
    October 30, 2014 at 1:05 pm


  9. October 30, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Heartfelt hugs.

    • October 30, 2014 at 1:53 pm

      And leaking sentimental tears. Not the toxic kind, but an expression of beauty shared and received.

      • October 31, 2014 at 8:46 am

        Thank you! I love the heart and insight behind your comments. (I wish I were ever able to post comments on your blog! Maybe someday my efforts will pay off …)

  10. October 30, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    This is so sweet and beautiful, such a loving tribute.

    • October 31, 2014 at 8:47 am

      Thanks, Heather! I really did feel like I was sitting and talking at my mom as I wrote … like how it used to be with her and her best friend, how they’d talk on the phone while doing dishes and sometimes could go ten minutes before switching off who was talking. Such a sweet feeling!

  11. cardamone5
    October 30, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    This is lovely. Happy birthday. I too am a huge Tracy Chapman fan, and as we’ve already established, I lost my mom sometime ago too. I love how you embrace all of her: her weaknesses and her triumphs. It sounds like you have truly forgiven her, and are at peace with what your relationship was, and is, because as you rightly say, she is with you. Who is the person with you in your wedding dress? I was going to say you look like your mom, but I think she passed before your wedding.

    I hope to get to the place you’re at with my mom’s memory. I’m getting there, especially as I navigate parenthood and find myself responding as she did. Unlike her, though, I have my husband, who is my rock as Anthony is to you. There is no substitute for that support, love and companionship.

    This post lifted me up. I was there with you, listening to those voice mails, and again, with your children, reading the Little Golden book. I know it sounds weird since I don’t really know you, but I wish we lived closer because I would love to meet you and have coffee, and have our families meet. We have so much in common. But, in some ways, blogging lets us know our friends (if I may be so bold as to call you a friend) better than those in our immediate vicinity (aside from our families of course) because we have no worries about what others’ think. We just spill, and feel better.

    Thank you for this lovely post.


    • November 1, 2014 at 6:38 am

      I have absolutely forgiven her. Sometimes I feel a little remorse for not having told her I forgave her, though she asked; I’d chuckle awkwardly and say there wasn’t any need, as if I could tell her what she needed! I meant it, truly, but those few words would have had such benefit to my mom’s heart.

      But I forgive myself that, because not-forgiveness for things past takes energy away from good things today.

      The person in my wedding day picture is my godmother. I couldn’t really see her facial features when she pulled up, but I could see the look of love and knew it was her. She was there when I was born, so having her there for my “giving away” was priceless. I was almost tempted to say “the next best thing,” but that’s not right. It’s its own precious joy. I actually called her on my and my mom’s shared birthday. I feel Mom in each of our conversations, as well as mirth at getting to know her a little closer to how my mom did. (I wrote a guest post about her here once.)

      wish we lived closer because I would love to meet you and have coffee, and have our families meet.
      This doesn’t sound weird to me at all! Truly, it’s a feeling I share. One of the good things about living in Los Angeles is that it’s not too unreasonable for me to think “maybe someday?” with some of the folks I wish could be in my physical as well as virtual worlds. Often folks make their way to Disneyland, or the sunny beaches here, and I’m able to seize that opportunity to exchange real hugs. I like virtual hugs, too, but they’ll never be quite the same.

      Big, big hugs, and hopes someday we will be able to have coffee!

  12. October 30, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    This one made me tear up a little. It’s funny how moms just know. They know what’s best, they know our hearts, they know how it’ll end up. I’m sure she knew you’d marry him 🙂

    • November 1, 2014 at 6:41 am

      Last night my husband asked me if I’d have married him without the kids. I wished I could have given another answer, but the answer was “unlikely.” I was careful to explain that this wasn’t because of him but because of me. I explained that a dear friend and I had earnestly created a group called YAMS in our youth: Youth Against Marital Situations. The feelings behind that group lingered long after the group disbanded. I also explained that I was fortunate for how things did go, because my eyes were opened in a way that’s let so much more light in. I shared your final sentence with him and made him smile. I’d never wondered that before, but reading it, I could feel you were right. Anthony could, too. Thanks for that. 🙂

  13. October 30, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    Gorgeous and oh so poignant. hugs to you…

  14. October 30, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Life would be colourless without memories Deborah.
    Memories are the structure of the self and provide that crucial link of grounding.
    Enjoy your memories and your emotion, it sometimes passes too soon.B

    • November 1, 2014 at 6:44 am

      I do enjoy them. Into the zone where I remember my mom for her spirit instead of all the hardships she endured, I treasure them. There’s such sweetness in that. 🙂

  15. October 30, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    Maybe someday when I read your birthday posts to your mother, maybe someday I won’t cry. Today isn’t that day. I am so grateful I can see and feel your love, you great heart, your forgiving spirit through your words, that I can absorb them and learn from them. thank you, thank you for once again reminding me how precious continuation is.

    I love you.

    • November 1, 2014 at 6:45 am

      This is one of those times where words just can’t express what I want them to. I wish I could give you a great big hug. I’m letting them stockpile, though. Someday we’ll exchange hugs with our arms as well as our minds.

  16. October 30, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    Deb, this post makes me want to take you in my arms and just hug you. So much of your story is exactly the same as my late

  17. October 30, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    Oops. What happened? My late sister Judy’s Tory is similar to your mom’s. We’ve lost both of them. But you know what? They’re always with us. Always. Happy birthday to you. I imagine it is a mixed day for you. Be good to yourself.

    • November 1, 2014 at 6:48 am

      I would have welcomed a hug! Even just reading a hug has such a calming feeling to it; it’s a reminder how much hugging and how much love is left in the world, you know?

      They’re always with us. Agreed. I feel my mom in so many moments, most especially just sitting there on the living room rug reading to the little boys seated on my lap.

      There’s a much kinder ratio of joy to sorrow with each new birthday, happily. Thank you. ♥

  18. October 30, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    I love this! I’m so glad you feel your mom so close today and I hope you thoroughly enjoyed your birthday!
    My own mom’s birthday was last Thursday. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost thirty years that she’s been gone.

    • November 1, 2014 at 6:51 am

      My birthday was awesome! There was one rough hour at Target, but nothing that couldn’t be undone by an hour (YES!) of Anthony playing with my hair later in the evening. 🙂

      Your mom and my MIL share a birthday. Next year, I’ll think of them both on that day. ♥

      • November 1, 2014 at 7:46 pm

        Awww! Your MIL sharing a b-day with my mom, makes my heart smile! I’m so glad your birthday was awesome. You completely deserve it! 🙂 ❤

  19. October 30, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    This is so touching. I hope you are healing.

  20. October 31, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Who drew the picture? I assume the left is you with your mother and the right is your son with you? But with mom’s shadow? I love the symbolism there!

    • November 1, 2014 at 6:55 am

      I wish my powers of doodle were strong enough to create something like that! I commissioned comic artist Sina Grace to draw it. I wrote a little about it here.

      The colored painting now hangs over our TV, right beneath a picture of my family: my sisters, their husbands, my brother, my husband, our kids. Each is beautiful in its own right, but together, they are priceless.

  21. November 1, 2014 at 6:39 am

    I’m tearing up – which is the greatest compliment I can bestow, Deborah.

  22. November 3, 2014 at 1:49 am

    How heartbreaking, and beautiful all at once. I am discovering your story, and you are sooo brave. It’s inspiring.

    • November 3, 2014 at 6:14 am

      Thank you. ♥ Where I’m at now is so different than where I was at originally. It was really good timing for me to finally experience Dia de los Muertos, too, and see how good it is to remember with joy instead of simply regret the loss as I did those first couple of years.

  23. November 4, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    WOW!! You tore my heart apart! I went through some of the same things but have difficulty writing about it. Your mom’s spirit burns bright in you and lives on in your children.

    • November 4, 2014 at 12:41 pm

      Thank you for this beautiful comment! I’ve written about this shared birthday a few times before, but this … this is the one where I really, finally felt I got down exactly what I feel, all the while with the sense I was sitting with my mom. ♥

  24. November 4, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    Reblogged this on enchantedface and commented:
    So beautiful! The rawness of this piece will touch your core especially if you miss a parent or guardian.

  25. November 4, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    What a beautiful post. Happy Birthday to you and your mother and I’m so happy for you that your life has surprised you in such a positive way.

    • November 5, 2014 at 8:59 am

      Thank you! There are some challenges, to be sure, but my mom’s love of gallows humor helped me appreciate the good things when they come. I’m not as funny as her, but I can find the silver lining thanks to her lessons! 🙂

  26. November 4, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    This was so lovely! What a tribute to her love still flowing through you.

    • November 5, 2014 at 9:00 am

      Thank you so much! I want to send the Freshly Pressed folks cookies for sharing this post … if only I knew how!

  27. Denise [But First, Live!]
    November 4, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    beautiful ❤

  28. November 4, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    I have tears in my eyes. Absolutely beautiful. Broke my heart and pieced it back together all in the same piece of writing.

    • November 5, 2014 at 9:01 am

      These are some of the most amazing words you could have said. Thank you so much not only for reading, but taking time out to say this.

  29. November 4, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Thank you for sharing

  30. November 4, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Simply beautiful and touching. I’m sure your mom always knew how you felt…

    • November 5, 2014 at 9:08 am

      I hope so! It can be so hard to believe some days, but some moments from her last week … as well as some that followed, though I didn’t believe in such things at the time … remind me she did know, no matter how imperfectly I expressed it.

  31. November 4, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    wow. just beautiful. Love this part, “Yes, I feel you here anyway, in every tear, every laugh, every snuggle with my children”.

    • November 5, 2014 at 9:09 am

      Thank you. Writing this was best of all for feeling her closeness. No matter how long it takes for someone to read a letter, the act of writing the letter creates the sense of conversation. Such sweetness.

  32. muslimalmumin
    November 4, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    It made me cry, thanks

  33. November 4, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Whoa! Very touching indeed!

  34. November 4, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    This was such a beautifully honest read. Thank you so much for sharing this part of your life with us. Sending love.

  35. November 4, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Reblogged this on nós and commented:
    Great, great post!

  36. November 4, 2014 at 5:54 pm


  37. November 4, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    I thought it was a lil nice letter to mum from a “teenager”. Read and re-read to realize tears are droppjng. You make me thankful for what I received from my Mother and treasured her for the rest of my life. Love you and your mom and your beautiful story. Thanks. God bless you.

    • November 5, 2014 at 3:30 pm

      Your words are a beautiful gift to me. My mom had so many challenges in her life. To have her memory be the inspiration for such sweet reflections … that lights up my day. Thank you.

  38. November 4, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    Reblogged this on WEAR WHAT! and commented:
    A beautiful blog. I am in touch with humanity. I love my Mother than anything in this World could provide. Thanks Mum for bringjng me into this life. I do know I often complained I wish you would not born me. I upset you. To learn, I am grateful for what I have. I am grateful to you❤️💖❤️

  39. November 4, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    So beautiful and heartfelt! 🙂

  40. November 4, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Wow, so heartwarming. Made me cry. Such a beautiful piece.

    • November 5, 2014 at 3:33 pm

      It seems so funny to say “thank you” to the words “Made me cry,” but … some tears are good tears, I think now. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  41. November 4, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    Reblogged this on mspatsperous and commented:
    :’) This inspires me to start writing about my mother and writing to my mother… I love her to the moon and back a billion times…

    • November 5, 2014 at 3:36 pm

      Thank you! Also? Hurrah for Guess How Much I Love You! My son says he loves me to the moon and back all the time, though sadly that’s the one book he never wants me to read to him anymore. I hope he’ll change his mind on that soon. ♥

  42. November 4, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    This brought tears to my eyes. I’m also writing a blog about my mother who passed away 11 months ago. Like your mother, mine is with me in everything I do. I’m sure she is even helping me write my blog — “Put in this! Don’t say that! Here’s a idea!” God bless our mothers.

    • November 5, 2014 at 3:39 pm

      This made me chuckle. I feel the same sense sometimes, but savor it in a way I didn’t necessarily always do when my mom was alive. (Some of my humor likely comes from remembering my mom saying, “You’ll understand someday.” She was right. I have a very different perspective these last few years!)

  43. November 4, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    Reblogged this on Trending On.

  44. November 4, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    beautiful !

  45. November 4, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    Its a warm-loving blog…

    its been said we can never equally understand a mother’s heart, not unless we become mothers as well…

    Godbless our mothers, wherever they may be now….

    • November 6, 2014 at 8:54 am

      I haven’t heard that before, but it is oh so true! I am glad my mom often said, “You’ll understand when you’re a mom” instead of speechifying as I am wont to do. 🙂

  46. November 4, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    I can relate- I really needed this today. thank you for posting!

  47. November 4, 2014 at 9:54 pm

    This brought tears to my eyes. So moving yet raw and honest. Happy birthday, to the both of you.

  48. November 4, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    Profoundly and honestly written. It is refreshing to see someone take tragedy and make themselves stronger instead of letting it break them. Well Done!

    • November 6, 2014 at 8:56 am

      That is something else I learned from my mom. I’m not as good at making people laugh ad was my mom, but I am pretty good at finding reasons to laugh … even in dire circumstance! Thank you so much for reading.

  49. November 4, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    It’s a very heart touching post.iIts wonderful.

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