For ten years, I have missed you. Although I believe that somehow you see me and my family and pray for us, there is a compulsion I cannot shake to write a letter to you. Perhaps it is because I miss your notes in the mail so much, and I regret that I did not write back to you more often. Or perhaps it is because one day I realized that so much of my writing stemmed from a need to reach you.
My writing is like the crayon pictures my four year old daughter draws and holds up to my face: "Look, mommy! I made this for you!"
The keen awareness of your uniqueness as a person, as well as the irreplaceable relationship of mother and child, has at times made grief a crushing experience. It was just after midnight on November 9, 2008 that we lost you. Although I have been blessed with so many friends, no one can ever substitute you.
Whenever I think of you, whether in grief or joy, I am grateful that you are my mother.
When I went back home to help Dad go through your things, a year after your death, I found a draft of an acclamation and blessing you wrote for my graduation from high school. You submitted something else to the committee, and I had never seen before this unpolished version.
You said you hoped I would be a writer and that I would sing. You wrote that you could see me studying in Europe and writing books in an apartment in Paris, a kind of Jane Austen for the 21st century. It made my heart so full, I cried as I read it, and I remembered my vow to you at your gravesite.
At the end of your funeral, I had looked at your coffin, and I remembered how you would encourage me to find the time to pursue passions outside the home. I thought it would be silly of me to add more things to my plate, especially things that seemed unnecessary and frivolous. But when I stared at your coffin, as the pastor said words I can’t remember, I swore to you that I would live more.
I begged God to somehow help me not be afraid to let go of trying to control and manage so much. Over time, it was clear that homeschooling wasn't working for our family. It was (and is) humbling to admit.
The older I am, though, the more I see that humility is the gateway to happiness.
You knew this about humility, although you still tried to do more than you should. When your heart stopped, I told my husband that no matter what the coroner said, I knew it was because your heart had broken. When the official word was that your mitral valve had collapsed, I knew it was the physical merely giving evidence to what had happened in your spirit.
“Why didn’t you help her?!” I yelled at God, when the kids were out of the house. It was in February of 2012. “And how can I believe that You won’t let me and my family down?”
When my ranting was done, immediately I felt Him whisper to my soul, “I wanted her to fight, and I want you to fight, too.”
Mom, you know how much of my life I struggled with God's sovereignty, always questioning how His sovereignty intersects with our free will. One of my favorite memories of you is talking about it in the car after school and your trying so hard to explain to me the mystery of it. Discerning God's will, especially when to act and when to wait, was never easy for me. I think this is why Calvinism had so much appeal to me: it's a lot easier to believe that choosing isn't really a choice.
That day in 2012, though, I was emboldened that somehow I did have a free will, and it mattered how I used it. Later I would read a quote from C. S. Lewis that to take away our free will, takes away our dignity. My experience says this is true.
When we became Catholic in 2015, I had no doubts that your prayers had a hand in it. From the day you died, the Catholic Church seemed to call me to her comfort.
A year before we entered the Church, a Protestant friend asked point blank if we were going to become Catholic. I said no, and I meant it.
I had a kind of vision of Mary when our youngest son was in the hospital with pneumonia, just two months after you died. I had a dream about Mary after we moved to Boise. The kids and I belonged to the Catholic homeschool group, and we prayed the rosary in front of Planned Parenthood. I had even started praying the rosary on my own. I had read books and decided the Catholics were right about communion. But I couldn’t get over Confession. The theology behind it seemed so contrary to grace.
Then just at the right time, I met a priest, who gave me a book. While reading it, I overcame my misgivings of Confession, and a year later, our entire family became Catholic.
I know you would laugh at the irony of this: Confession, which was a stumbling block for so long, is a consistent source of overflowing grace for me. It still makes me nervous, but time and time again, it is in the confessional that I find the advice and clarity I need, along with absolution and healing.
The faith you passed onto me makes more sense in the Catholic Church. All the things you taught me find consistency and depth in the Church's teachings. Someone said that you were thinking about becoming Catholic before you died because you were so tired of meandering through Protestant churches. You would have had so much fun as a Catholic; it would have suited you beautifully.
My priest said that whatever a person is while on earth, when they get to heaven, they are Catholic. (His sense of humor often reminds me of yours.)
When I see my nineteen year old Irish dancing, or watch my four year old buzz from here to there insisting on helping everyone, or notice my toddler running up to people in pews to say "hi," I see that the trait of being busy has been handed down through the generations. From your mother to you to me to my daughters, the worst thing to do would be to tell us to do nothing— to tell us that we cannot help, that we should not be involved.
There is comfort in seeing this common trait, but with it comes a caution against wearing oneself out. If we don't take care of ourselves, we become too tired, and we die too soon.
Earlier this year, while I was folding laundry, the four year old stopped her playing, looked up at me, and said, “Your mom loves you.” She said it with such conviction, that it felt like you had reached out and hugged me. It’s not the only instance when heaven broke the barrier of dimensions to let me know you still care, and I’m so thankful.
I am now near the age you were when I got married. It is not beyond possibility that in the next ten years, one or more of my children may marry and grandchildren might be born. There are untold adventures ahead.
But I know that in another 10 years, I will still miss you. I will still have mornings when I don’t know what to do, and I will think of calling you for advice, only to realize seconds later that I can’t. I will look at old pictures and miss your hugs and laughter. I will see something beautiful and hope that you are somehow with me and see it, too. I will light candles for you and say prayers, and find comfort in knowing that you are praying for me and my family.
When you died, I lost my mother and one of my best friends.
I love you, Mom.
With more love and prayers,
©2018 Emily Woodham